China became the third nation in history to 'soft-land' a spacecraft on the moon Saturday, following in the footsteps of the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The unmanned spacecraft, Chang'e-3, touched down on the lunar surface, the first to do so in nearly four decades and comes two weeks after lift-off from Earth.
It will release will release a six-wheeled, solar-powered lunar rover called the "Jade Rabbit", which is "Yutu" in Chinese, named for the pet of goddess Chang'e, who is said to live on the moon. It is equipped with four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples to a depth of 30 meters.
China's information technology ministry said in a statement that the 140 kg. rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations as well as an ultraviolet camera that will monitor how solar activity affects the various layers of the Earth's atmosphere, the troposphere, stratosphere and ionosphere.
The rover will remain on the moon for three months.
"It's still a significant technological challenge to land on another world," said Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane's Space Systems and Industry. "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."
Bond notes that is has been slow-going for the Chinese space program, but they are making great strides.
"They are taking their time with getting to know about how to fly humans into space, how to build space stations ... how to explore the solar system, especially the moon and Mars," Bond said. "They are making good strides, and I think over the next 10, 20 years they'll certainly be rivaling Russia and America in this area and maybe overtaking them in some areas."
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