China’s first moon rover has touched the lunar surface and left deep traces on its loose soil, state media reported yesterday, several hours after the country successfully carried out the world’s first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades.
The 140kg “Jade Rabbit” rover separated from the much larger landing vehicle early yesterday, about seven hours after the unmanned Chang’e 3 space probe touched down on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed images taken from the lander’s camera of the rover and its shadow moving down a sloping ladder and touching the surface, setting off applause in the Beijing control center. It said the lander and rover, both bearing Chinese flags, would take photographs of each other.
The six-wheeled rover will survey the moon’s geological structure and surface and look for natural resources for three months, while the lander will carry out scientific explorations at the landing site for one year.
The mission marks the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon. China’s space program is an enormous source of pride for the country, the third to carry out a lunar soft landing — which does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries — after the US and the former Soviet Union. The last one was carried out by the Soviet Union in 1976.
“It’s still a significant technological challenge to land on another world,” Jane’s Space Systems and Industry consultant editor Peter Bond said. “Especially somewhere like the moon, which doesn’t have an atmosphere, so you can’t use parachutes or anything like that. You have to use rocket motors for the descent and you have to make sure you go down at the right angle and the right rate of descent and you don’t end up in a crater on top of a large rock.”
On Saturday evening, CCTV showed a computer-generated image of the Chang’e 3 lander’s path as it approached the surface of the moon, saying that during the landing period it needed to have no contact with Earth. As it was just hundreds of meters away, the lander’s camera broadcast images of the moon’s surface.
The Chang’e 3’s solar panels, which are used to absorb sunlight to generate power, opened soon after the landing.
The mission blasted off from southwest China on Dec. 2 on a Long March-3B carrier rocket. It is named after a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon and the Yutu rover, or “Jade Rabbit” in English, is the goddess’ pet.