China launches first moon mission with unmanned lunar probe
Chang'e-3 will release a solar-powered rover on the moon's surface
Joining the international space race, China launched its first lunar probe today. If successful, China will become the only third nation, after the United States and the former Soviet Union to "soft-land" on the moon.
The Yutu is a six-wheeled lunar rover equipped with four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples.
The most recent effort comes just over a decade after China first sent an astronaut into space.
Chang'e-3 will be able to survey the landscape first and determine the safest spot, unlike the soft-landings of the U.S. and the Soviet Union's unmanned spacecraft. An impact crater named Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, is the craft's likely destination. China's previous lunar mission in 2010 captured images of the crater while scouting potential landing sites for the 2013 probe.
The spacecraft will release "Jade Rabbit," or Yutu in Chinese upon touching down. The Yutu is a six-wheeled lunar rover equipped with four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples, a designer for the rover told Xinhua last month.
A public poll among the Chinese people determined the the solar-powered robot's name, which derives from the white pet rabbit of the Chinese moon Goddess Chang'e. The slow-moving rover will patrol the moon's surface for at least three months, according to Xinhua.
Scientists in the United States are concerned that the Chinese mission could interfere with a NASA study of the moon's dust environment. Chang'e-3's descent is likely to create a plume on the moon's surface that could skew the results of research already being carried out by NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), Jeff Plescia, chair of NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group told Space.com, a space news site.
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