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Trust us, we're from the space administration

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Ouyang Ziyuan

An article in the Southern Metropolis Daily rounds up the latest developments in the controversy over the Chang'e lunar photo.

Recapping the events of the past week, the article notes the speculation that the photo was copied from a NASA image, the denial by CAS's Ouyang Ziyuan, who pointed out a new crater in the Chinese photo, and the subsequent demonstration that the new crater was just an artifact of the way that the photo mosaic was stitched together to make the composite image that was released to the public. The article even incorporates the more thorough proof provided by Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society.

The SMD approached Ouyang Ziyuan for his reaction to the error. All he was willing to say was that the photo was genuine; he avoided the question how the crater turned up:

Southern Metropolis Daily: There has been some online controversy lately concerning the Chang'e lunar photo; people are particularly concerned with the "extra" crater that is missing on the American photo. One netizen suggested that this is the result of an error in stitching the mosaic....
Ouyang Ziyuan: There are two parts to this issue. First, whether China's photo is genuine is a question of principle; there is absolutely no room for wild speculation—that is an insult to our nation, a denial of the fruit of the labors of 17,000 people. This is a question of principle. I hope that you can understand this point.

The second issue: the US photos were shot in 1994 and were only verified many years later in verified 2005. Ten years! We had just three days, right? Some details in the computer stitching...because this involves many, many elements, I think that it doesn't really matter. We haven't reached the final form; what I mean is that you cannot say that this is fake, and additionally, there isn't much point to arguing over this matter.

I don't think that these questions deserve messing with. Why? This is a question of real and fake, which does not permit any doubt. Would we create a fake? So many people—it's really offensive! So I want to make this clear.

SMD: So you're saying that the photo that we stitched together in three days on the computer may have had some imperfections in the stitching process. But the fact that the Americans took ten years to stitch together their photo does not necessarily mean....
Ouyang: They've got lots of problems, too, let me tell you. Don't get stuck on this question. I suggest you concentrate on the real/fake issue; don't talk about the later one—there's no point.

SMD: The problem is that on the Internet, everyone is discussing the extra crater....
Ouyang: Here's a question: do you realize that people are still arguing that the Apollo program was fake? What's NASA's attitude toward this question?

SMD: Avoidance. They don't argue it.
Ouyang: It's not avoidance. They don't even bother to refute it. The current question, I think, isn't worth discussing. Just brush it aside. Why? It's kids' stuff, not worth talking about. The other problem is the argument. Let the netizens argue—there's no reason for the media to get mixed up in it, right?

We'll only speak about the real/fake issue, but I won't talk details. To put it bluntly, you wouldn't understand. All those fussy details—if you messed with them you'd only get yourself confused.


Xinhua journalist Han Song takes issue with Ouyang Ziyuan's casual dismissal of the public's concerns in a blog post titled, "Ouyang Ziyuan insults our enthusiasm for Chang'e":

The Chang'e moon photo has been fraught with basic problems that have put us 1.3 billion astronomy idiots into confusion. Naturally we're concerned about whether it is real or fake, and how a crater appeared out of nowhere—whether it was a stitching error or a real impact—and how such a major "new discovery" for astronomy was created out of a stitching error—think of the money that was spent! The satellite belongs to all of us, not just to those few scientists! (Ouyang Ziyuan himself only mentioned the 17,000 workers—such a small number of people.)

Ouyang Ziyuan continued, "whether China's photo is genuine is a question of principle; there is absolutely no room for wild speculation—that is an insult to our nation." (I immediately thought that naturally, the South China Tiger photos were also a question of principle. If we aren't careful, we could insult the State Forestry Bureau.)

In sum, all of you common people may not wildly speculate as a matter of principle. And this is an absolute. Nor can the media get mixed up in it. (In China, the words I am most afraid to hear are "a question of principle." It renders you speechless.)

After hearing this, I was momentarily so ashamed that I wished I could dig a new crater. Thinking back to when Chang'e was going to the moon, I was an eager participant in the Sohu's Moon Base collaborative science fiction competition, to support the project. I studiously read Mr. Ouyang Ziyuan's China's Moon Project (that book's really expensive), and I earnestly read his interviews in Chinese National Astronomy magazine, and I strove to distinguish one moon crater from the other.

But Mr. Ouyang says, "details—if you messed with them you'd only get yourself confused!" Evidently it's not just a question of principle—it's actually something that has nothing to do with you!

(Thus, America's Space Shuttle explosion, caused by a "detail"—a problem with a tiny gasket—apparently served them right. But those Ouyang Ziyuans brought about such a formidable crater - at least ten kilometers in diameter, right? Among the people interested in the photos may be those whose children will answer the country's call to live there. But this will involve the Property Rights Law. You can't expect that just because the moon is under the United Nations' jurisdiction that there won't be laws, can you?)

Ultimately, we aren't concerned with just the question of whether it's real or fake. What we're really concerned with is something much more pressing. Ouyang Ziyuan doesn't understand this at all.

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Comments on Trust us, we're from the space administration

Beautiful example of a dysfunctional government. These Chinese bureaucrats live in an artificial world where they can just pretend and pretend, and have 1.3 billion people believe their garbage.

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