One small rollout for a rover, one giant leap for China National Space Administration.
China’s state-run television network is reporting that the unmanned Yutu lunar rover has successfully soft-landed on the moon. The rover, which touched down a few minutes after 9PM Saturday night Beijing time, is the first object to be successfully soft-landed on the moon since 1976.
The Chang’e-3 landing craft carried the rover to the smooth Bay of Rainbows region of the moon after a voyage launched December 1st. The rover, named Yutu (Jade Rabbit in English), is a 260lb six-wheeled solar powered explorer with a top speed of 660 feet per hour. For the next three months, it will conduct tests on the lunar surface and set up a telescope to study earth’s plasmasphere.
An earlier Chinese spacecraft successfully orbited the moon, collecting data before being intentionally crashed into the moon’s surface. The next mission in the Chang’e program is intended to bring back rock and soil samples from the moon some time before 2020. [The New York Times]