Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

Just in case you didn’t notice.

The U.S. State Department is embracing the concept of an “International Lunar Year” – coordinating programs around a one-to-two-year celebration of the study and exploration of the Moon later in the decade.

“As multiple nations and commercial entities plan a near-term return to the Moon on an unprecedented scale, now is the right time to consider planning an International Lunar Year,” a State Department website adds.

Earth’s Moon is a destination point for renewed human exploration.  Image credit: NASA

“A sustained program might combine elements of public outreach and scientific collaboration to fashion a vibrant interdisciplinary and multilateral effort, demonstrating how lunar exploration can be responsible, peaceful, and sustainable, as we begin to establish an enduring presence at the Moon.”

Indeed, such a celebration was put forth in a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy released in 2022.

Photo taking during Chang’e-5 surface sampling.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Sample swaps

One avenue to explore is activating Moon sample swaps.

For instance, China has now opened access to the Chang’e-5 returned lunar samples to the international scientific community.  That “get up and go” set of samples was rocketed to Earth back in mid-December 2020.

The haul from the Moon added up to roughly 61 ounces of lunar collectibles, including a core sample.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-5 was the first lunar sample-return mission since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976, making China the third country to return lunar samples after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The Moon looms large in China’s space exploration plans over the next several years, and shooting to our home planet additional lunar samples is on their agenda.

Meanwhile, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has outlined opportunities and set the rules for future management of international cooperation in lunar samples and scientific data. Proposals will be reviewed every six months.

For full details, go to the CNSA website at:


Moonwalking geologist, Apollo 17’s Jack Schmitt.
Credit: NASA

Diplomatic gestures

In retro-reflective mode, understanding the Moon has been revolutionized through the study of samples collected between 1969 and 1976 by the six Apollo human landing missions, along with three Luna missions carried out by the former Soviet Union.

“The legacy of the bilateral exchange of lunar samples as diplomatic gestures of goodwill transcends generations of lunar scientists,” explains a paper presented at a Lunar Exploration Analysis Group gathering back in 2021.

“As we enter this new golden era of lunar exploration, the U.S. and other nations must recognize the lasting legacy and benefit of the Apollo-Luna sample exchange program of the 1970s and explore new opportunities to share returned samples in the future,” the paper explains, led by planetary scientist, Jessica Barnes at the University of Arizona.

Image credit: NASA

Current restrictions

So what next?

A recent gathering of the Extraterrestrial Materials Analysis Group (ExMAG) made note of access to China’s Chang’e lunar samples.

ExMAG is a community-based, interdisciplinary group that offers a forum for discussion and analysis of matters concerning the collection, curation, and analysis of extraterrestrial samples, including planning future sample return missions

A member gathering of ExMAG earlier this month noted that China has now opened access to the Chang’e-5 returned lunar samples to the international scientific community.

“ExMAG appreciates NASA’s efforts to pursue avenues of sample sharing with China and their Chang’E samples, though we recognize this is not possible under current restrictions,” an ExMAG finding explains.

Image credit: NASA

Bilateral exchange

“ExMAG understands that sample loans made via this mechanism are considered bilateral agreements, which are prohibited for U.S. Government-funded researchers,” with the group recommending that U.S. Government-funded researchers who are interested in working on Chang’e-5 sample “form or join research teams with researchers in other nations who can request the samples for joint work.”

Credit: White House

Bottom line: Given the White House/U.S. State Department moves on an International Lunar Year perhaps there’s a window opening to find avenues for U.S.-China Moon sample cooperation?

Perhaps it’s time to provide some new Moonwalking legs to build upon the legacy of bilateral exchange?

Your views are welcomed!

For more information on this topic, go to these resources:

U.S. State Department Plans “International Lunar Year”


White House Report: Cislunar Strategy


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