The rocket carrying China’s first-ever lunar lander, Jade Rabbit, launched earlier today and is heading for the moon. If the landing is successful, China will be only the third nation after the United States and Russia to soft-land on the moon, NY Times reports:
If successful, the Chang’e-3 mission will be China’s first “soft landing” on the moon — which allows a craft to operate after descending — and the first such landing by any country since 1976, when the Soviet Union sent a probe. The United States is the other country that has mastered soft lunar landings, and the last American expedition on the moon’s surface was a manned visit in 1972. Chinese state-run television broadcast footage of the rocket’s untroubled launch and ascent into space, where the Chang’e-3 craft set off toward the moon.
The Chinese state-run news media has responded to the launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center with jubilation. That is likely to reach a climax in about two weeks, when the landing vehicle is scheduled to descend on the moon and release the Jade Rabbit, or Yutu, robotic rover to start sending back data and pictures from Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, a basaltic plain formed from lava that filled a crater.
Jade Rabbit will rove the moon’s surface for at least three months, according to Xinhua news.
The name, Yutu or Jade Rabbit, which was voted on in a poll this past fall, is taken from the name of the pet rabbit of the moon goddess, Chang’e, who was the inspiration for the rocket, named Chang’e-3. Legend has it that, after swallowing a magic pill, Chang’e took her pet and flew toward the moon, where she became a goddess, and has lived there with the white jade rabbit ever since.
However, not everyone is as jubilant as China about the rover’s launch. The US fears the landing will stir up vast amounts of moon dust and interfere with research being conducted by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. Says Jeff Plescia of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, “The arrival of the Chang’e 3 spacecraft into lunar orbit and then its descent to the surface will result in a significant contamination of the lunar exosphere by the propellant.”
China might have to establish an MDIZ (Moon Defense Identification Zone).
Rocket en route