Daniel R, Junior

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The Jade Rabbit Lands on the Moon

lunar probe Chang'e-3 on the screen of the  Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. China's lunar probe  Chang'e-3 has started soft-landing on the moon as it began decelerating from 15 km above the lunar surface. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

lunar probe Chang’e-3 on the screen of the
Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. China’s lunar probe
Chang’e-3 has started soft-landing on the moon as it began decelerating from 15 km
above the lunar surface. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

China’s first lunar rover landed on the surface of the moon on Saturday, less than two weeks after it lifted off from the Earth, Chinese state news reported.

The landing makes China one of only nations after the United States of America and the former Soviet Union to “soft-land” on the moon’s surface, and the first to do so in more than three dacades.

Chang’e 3, an unmanned spacecraft, will release Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) a six- wheeled lunar rover equipped with at least four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples to a depth of 30 meters.

The solar-powered rover will patrol the moon’s surface, studying the structure of the lunar crust as well as soil and rocks, for at least three months. The robot’s name was decided by a public online poll and comes from a Chinese myth about the pet white rabbit of a goddess, Chang’e, who is said to live on the moon.

Weighing about 140 kilograms, the slow-moving rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations and a powerful ultraviolet camera that will monitor how solar activity affects the various layers of troposphere, stratosphere and ionosphere that make up the Earth’s atmosphere, China’s information technology ministry said in a statement.

The Jade Rabbit is also equipped with radioisotope heater units, allowing it to function during the cold lunar nights when temperatures plunge as low as -180*c (-292*F).

China’s space program

China has rapidly built up its space program since it first sent an astronaut into space in 2003. In 2012, the country conducted 18 space launches, according to the Pentagon.

The Chang’e-3 mission constitutes the second phase of China’s moon exploration program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning back to Earth.

In 2010, China captured images of the landing site for the 2013 probe, the Bay of Rainbows, which is considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of the moon.

Within the next decades, China expected to open a permanent space station in the Earth’s orbit.

But scientists in the United States have expressed concern that the Chang’e-3 mission could skew the results of NASA study of the moon’s dust environment.

The spacecraft’s decent is likely to create a noticeable plume on the moon’s surface that could interfere with research already being carried out by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environmen Explorer (LADEE), Jeff Plescia, chair of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group told news site Space.com in November.

The Chang’e-3 spacecraft blasted off from a Long March 3B rocket in China’s Sichuan province on December 2 and reached the moon’s orbit at 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from its surface less than five days later.

On Tuesday, it descended into an elliptical orbit with its lowest point just 15 kilometers off lunar surface, a spokesperson for China’s Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense told Xinhua.

The Soviot Union’s Luna 24 probe was the last space mission to land on the moon in August 1976 four years after the United States launched the manned Apollo 17 mission.

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