China Explores the Moon

This is not really a tech story that this blog handles normally however tech news slows down during the holidays and I wanted no one to miss this story so I decided to write a little about it here.

This past Saturday, December 14, China became only the third nation (after the U.S. and Russia) to accomplish a soft-landing on the moon, which is an amazing task.

What Does This Mean for the U.S. Space Program?

If China is successful with their new space program and they decide to focus on Mars and landing on an asteroid it will probably kick off a new space race, this time between the United States and China as Sputnik did in 1957 between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Back to China’s Moon Mission

In order to move the moon probe into a gentle landing, the Chinese lander was equipped with state-of-the-art mini rockets, which allowed it to gently hover above the lunar surface.  This allowed it to avoid small boulders and large rocks that litter parts of its Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) landing site.

 

The successful landing occurred at 8:11 a.m. EST.

Chang’e 3 used its hovering jets to touch down softly on Saturday. [Image Source: News.cn]

Using its high-resolution imaging and hovering capabilities, the craft safely touched down in the Bay of Rainbows, a basalt sand/rock crater plane in the Lunar north.  After landing safely, the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover climbed off the Chang’e 3 spacecraft without issue on Saturday, snapping pictures.

Chang’e 3, post-landing. [Image Source: News.cn]
The Yutu rover stands roughly 5 feet and features a six-wheel independent bogie-style suspension, similar to the rovers that the NASA used to rove the moon in decades past. It has been nearly four decades since the U.S. and Russia last roamed the moon.

A picture of the offloaded rover is snapped by Chang’e 3 [Image Source: CCTV]

 

China’s first and second Lunar probes provided mankind with unprecedented map of the Lunar surface.  Over the next few months Yutu will add yet more insight, “tasting” the chemicals in Lunar rock and exploring the Lunar dirt/crust with ground-penetrating radar.

 

The lander is powered by a radioisotope heater, while the rover is powered by a solar panel.  Both will only operate by day to safeguard their sensitive electronics from the chilling northern Lunar night.

You can be assured that the United States Space Program will be watching this closely and we can all hope that we, as a nation will be exploring the stars again with a new inspired mission we can all collectively get excited about.

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