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Sunday, 15 December 2013

China's lunar probe Chang'e-3 landing on the Moon a success

China´s first attempt at lunar soft-landing succeeds CCTV News - CNTV English

China's first lunar rover separates from Chang'e-3 moon lander early December 15, 2013. Picture was taken from the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. Photo: Xinhua

Photographs of the Chang’e-3 probe (inset) and Yutu lunar rover taken by each other at the Bay of Rainbows on the surface of the moon on Sunday. Photos: IC

The Chang'e-3 probe and its moon rover separated before taking photos of each other on the moon's surface on Sunday, marking a "complete success" of the Chang'e-3 mission, Ma Xingrui, chief commander of the lunar program, announced on Sunday night.

The moon rover, Yutu, took photos with a panoramic camera at five points at a distance of 10 meters when moving around the probe, while the probe also took pictures of the rover with its landform camera and then sent them back to Earth, said Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the lunar probe.

The pictures of the moon's landscape and the probe and rover on it, carrying China's national flag, mark the country's first soft-landing on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

Yutu, which traveled at 200 meters per hour, will start a three-month research mission on the moon, examining the moon's soil construction, landform and material composition, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Yutu was deployed from the probe and tracked on the moon's surface at around 4:45 am on Sunday, approximately seven and half hours after the successful soft-landing of the probe.

China became the third country to do so after the US and Soviet Union. The last such mission was made by the Soviet Union in 1976.

The probe touched down on an area named Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, as planned. The landing process started at 9 pm on Saturday and lasted for about 12 minutes, according to China Central Television's live broadcast.

Chang'e-3's landing is the second step of the three key stages of China's lunar program. The third step will involve bringing samples back to  Earth for closer analysis.

News of the landing quickly made an impact on China's hugely popular social media, topping the list of searched items, as many commented in the style of the famous Neil Armstrong remark, "one giant leap for mankind."

The successful soft-landing of Chang'e-3 attracted the world's attention, as some scientists compared China's interest in the moon to that of many other countries in exploiting resources in Antarctica, saying such scenarios depend "entirely on the business case," the AFP reported.

Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, told the Global Times on Sunday that the lunar program mainly focuses on its scientific purpose rather than the economic purpose, which Western media reported.

Although the moon may have rich mineral and energy resources, such as helium-3, and China's moon research did include examining such resources, "it is still unrealistic for any country to profit from the moon's resources in the near future considering the technology and cost," he said. 

However, Jiao didn't rule out the possibility of developing moon resources in the future, which should be "many" years away.

During the online interview on the program's official Weibo account, Liu Jianzhong, a research fellow from the Institute of Geochemistry with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Net users that whoever is capable of developing the moon's resources first should reap the benefits.

 China's "Jade Rabbit" separates from lander

China's first moon rover, Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, separated from the lander early on Sunday, several hours after the Chang'e-3 probe soft-landed on the lunar surface.

The 140 kg six-wheeled rover touched the lunar surface at 4:35 am, leaving deep trace on the loose lunar soil. The process was recorded by the camera on the lander and the images were sent to the earth, according to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

After the separation, the rover and lander will take photos of each other and start their own scientific explorations.

Engineers made final checks of the environment of the landing site, the situation of the probe and the solar incidence angle late night on Saturday and sent signals of separation to Chang'e-3.

Yutu, atop the probe, extended its solar panel and started to drive slowly to the transfer mechanism at 3:10.

The transfer mechanism unlocked at 4:06 with one side reaching the moon's surface, allowing the rover to descend to the surface following a ladder mechanism.

Chang'e-3 landed on the moon's Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, at 9:11 pm Saturday, making China the third country in the world to carry out such a rover mission after the United States and former Soviet Union.

In ancient Chinese mythology, Yutu was the white pet rabbit of the lunar goddess Chang'e. The name for the rover was selected following an online poll that collected several million votes from people around the world.

The rover, 1.5 meters long with its two wings folded, 1 m in width and 1.1 m in height, is a highly efficient robot controlled by the command center from the earth. It will face challenges including temperature differences of more than 300 degrees Celsius on the moon.

Yutu will survey the moon's geological structure and surface substances and look for natural resources for three months, while the lander will conduct in-situ exploration at the landing site for one year. - Xinhua

Related post:
China launches probe and rover to moon 

Related Links:

Backgrounder: China's "triple jump" progress in lunar probes
Backgrounder: Timeline of China's lunar program
Special Report: China's lunar explorations
Graphics: Launch procedure of Chang'e-3 lunar probe
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