Artist Rendering of Chinese Lunar Lander
The Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover lift off from China as a part of the Chang’e-3 mission —launched Sunday (Nov. 29) — to explore the moon’s Sea of Rainbows after its scheduled landing two weeks later, Dec. 14. It landed safely this morning of December 14, 2013, and was deployed. It may be decades behind the USA, and Russia, but it is the only roaming rover now on the moon with more modern instruments to probe the surface and look through it.
There are other spacecraft orbiting the moon — including the newly launched LADEE from NASA, which is checking out the moon’s tenuous atmosphere — but if this mission succeeds, it would be the first soft landing since Russia’s Luna-24 in 1976. That’s a 37-year drought.
Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) is 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 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 — 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).
The moon exploration makes China one of only three nations — after the United States and the former Soviet Union — to “soft-land” on the moon’s surface, and the first to do so in more than three decades.