Moon Rabbit Breaks Dry Spell

When I read the article today, I could not believe I missed this. I could also not believe the lack of media coverage in general. We’re back on the Moon!

On the 14th December China’s Chang’e 3 lander touched down on the surface of the Moon. This is the first soft landing there since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976 – a 37 year dry spell that followed a previously intense period of space exploration. The recent touchdown follows the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiter missions in 2007 and 2010.

The unmanned Chang’s 3  lander hovered 100m above the surface as it analysed the local features searching for a safe landing spot. Once it was satisfied in its choice of landing pad it throttled down its engine and free-fell to land on its springy legs.

The robotic lander was controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Of course, these days no visit to a celestial neighbour is complete without a robotic rover. A few hours after landing, the Chang’e – named after the Chinese goddess – released its Yutu moon rover. Yutu is named after the pet rabbit the goddess carries with her on her travels. The rover’s wheels were unlocked by the firing of explosive devices, after which the rover unfurled its solar wings and deployed its instrument mast. Twin ramps then inched down to the lunar surface, allowing the rover to roll down them onto the dust.

Yutu is a six-wheeled robot that weighs around 140 kg and has a 10km range. It’s outfitted with navigation and both panoramic cameras and hazard-avoidance cameras fitted to its lower front portion. No reversing cameras though – parking is generally no problem on the Moon.

The solar-powered rover will hibernate through the bitter chill of the Moon’s 14 day night. Once it wakes up it will deploy its nifty Proton X-ray spectrometer, which will be used to examine lunar material, particularly ejecta that will give clues about what lies beneath the lunar surface. The data will also help researchers develop better impact-cratering models.

Yutu is also equipped with ground penetrating radar, which is useful to carrying surveys of the sub-surface up to 100m depth. Variation in the radar wavelength can allow more detailed mapping of the shallower surface areas. Exploration of the deeper areas will be at the trade-off of lower resolution.

I for one am glad the dry spell is over. This is really exciting news.

Was anyone out there following the Chang’e 3 landing?

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8 comments

  1. When I read about this I was excited and a little dismayed. Now, I’m a loud-mouthed jingoistic American who thinks that my country should be head and shoulders above everyone. Viewed through that lens the dismay is, I think, understandable.

    At the same time, this is a Good Thing. One of the things we Earthlings are going to need to do in the not-too distant future is find a way to acquire more resources because we’re using our planets up. The moon is the easiest way to do that because it’s closest. This puts us one step closer. And honestly the more different countries (or groups of countries) does things like this the easier and cheaper it is going to get. That will help later because right now a spacecraft could come back with solid gold and not pay for itself based on its cargo.

    Cheaper is better and we’re only going to achieve that through multiple trials. Entry of private industry into the Space Race will help immensely here and in order to attract corporation we have to make it profitable. The testing this thing is supposed to do will help figure out what’s there that is exploitable. This is also a Good Thing. This could be the day when we can finally look those “Why go into space? What are we accomplishing that matters?” types in the face with an answer that will shut them up. Maybe. Here’s hoping anyway.

    1. Hi, Jim. Reducing the cost of the whole process is certainly a key – and having a good reason to go. I find it kind of crazy how much exploration and space activity happened in the sixties to seventies and how quickly this shrunk away to a minimal effort. I am also baffled by how quickly the general public lost interest – the first Apollo Moon landing was watched by a good proportion of the planet – the last one hardly made the papers.

      But and guess you and I and other space enthusiasts are kind of in the minority who look at the bigger picture for Earth’s future.

      Hopefully any disovery – by anyone – on the Moon will help to spur interest across the board. And hopefully Elon Musk will get the cost of spaceflight to his proposed 1/10th!

    1. Hi, Susannah Ailene. Yes ver scary. The Chinese own quite of lot of land in Australia as well, and have invested heavily in our mining industry – a major economic sector for us. I’d like to say I trust our government to appropriate regulate the level of investment, but I don’t:(

    2. Space treaty of 1967, I think. China is one of the signatories. Of course, they could break the treaty, but…

      1. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty prohibits national appropriation of celestial bodies, including the moon. So, China can’t claim sovereignty.

        I’m reading Moonrush by Dennis Wingo right now. It’s a pretty good explanation of what’s gone on so far, and what potential resources there may be.

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