China Lands historic Jade Rabbit robot rover on moon

December 14, 2013 | By | Reply More

Dec 14, – China became the first country to “soft-land” on the Moon in nearly four decades on Saturday, taking the Asian super-power one step closer to putting a man on the lunar surface.

hromedia China Lands historic Jade Rabbit robot rover on moon environment2The unmanned Chang’e-3 spacecraft successfully landed at just before 9.15pm Beijing time, according to Chinese state media.

“It landed on the Moon,” state media announced in a live broadcast on Saturday night. “Chang’e has landed.”

Television footage showed dozens of jubilant white-coated technicians and scientists at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre reacting to the news by clapping and embracing each other.

Experts told CCTV, the state television network, that the landing represented a giant leap in Beijing’s push to send astronauts to the Moon.

Yang Yuguang, an expert from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said: “Soft-landing technology is a critical technology necessary for the future manned lunar missions and in the far future we should establish [lunar] bases and utilise resources on the Moon,” he said.

The spacecraft will deploy a six-wheeled, solar-powered moon rover called “Yutu” or “Jade Rabbit”.

The Jade Rabbit robot will photograph and study the Moon’s surface using four cameras and two mechanical legs for digging while the stationary “lander” will conduct studies of its own.

“The lander will work for a year while the rover is expected to function for 3 months,” CCTV announced.

Ouyang Ziyuan, the project’s leader, said China’s next step would be to launch a mission capable of returning samples of the Moon to the earth.

“I believe that within two or three years we will be able to carry out very systematic and accurate research with the samples.”

China, India and the US have fired or crash-landed probes on the Moon’s surface in recent years but this was the first soft – or controlled – landing since 1976, when the former Soviet Union’s Luna-24 landed there.

Chang’e-3 was launched on December 2 from a military base in southwest China, carrying with it a six-wheeled moon rover called “Yutu” or “Jade Rabbit” to photograph and study the Moon’s surface.

Prior to departure, the 310lb robot underwent a lengthy testing phase in the Kumtag desert a barren, rainless corner of west China known for its fine sands that was selected because of its similarity to the Moon’s surface.

Professor Fu Song, from Tsinghua University’s School of Aerospace, told The Telegraph the landing would “pave the way for further knowledge of the moon.”

“A soft-landing requires very skillful technical maneuvering. It is not easy.”

Experts believe China’s space programme is primarily about making a political statement of Beijing’s growing economic, scientific and geopolitical clout.

“I think in space probably their motivation is very largely the same as it was years ago for the Americans and the Soviet Union: a demonstration of their technical prowess,” said Professor Ken Pounds, a professor of space physics at the University of Leicester and one of the pioneers of British space research.

“What the Chinese are now showing more than any other nation – the Russians, the Indians even and certainly the Americans – is the determination to actually get on with space exploration and they are making quite rapid progress.”

The landing comes as Xi Jinping, who has been China’s president since March, pushes an increasingly assertive foreign policy and promotes a patriotic campaign of “national rejuvenation” that he has dubbed “the Chinese Dream.”

Jiao Weixin from Peking University’s School of Earth and Space Sciences, admitted a successful soft-landing was a “symbol of state power” that would boost “China’s international status and increase the sense of national pride”.

“But its main purpose is not political as it is not Cold War era,” he added. “The US and former Soviet Union did it decades ago, so this is not about competition, but simply making a contribution as far as a major country can and should.”

In fact, one the mission’s key goals is to hunt for precious natural resources that could help the feed their country’s insatiable hunger for raw materials that are increasingly scarce on earth, Chinese academics argue. Professor Jiao said Beijing hoped the mission would provide its scientists with “in-depth knowledge of the natural resources” on the Moon.

A successful space programme could also help turbo-charge technological advances, state media argued on Friday.

“The Moon probe mission may demand a huge amount of money, but it will bring great benefits to the country in the long run,” argued a comment piece carried by Xinhua, China’s official news agency. Xinhua said the space programme could be a key driver of Chinese technological innovation.

China has not released a precise timeline for its future Moon exploration plans but state media has said it plans to test an “experimental spacecraft” that is able to bring earth samples back from the moon before 2015.

Prof Jiao said he expected Beijing to return an unmanned lunar mission to earth by 2017 and to build a space station by 2020.

In order to maximise scientific research benefits, future missions should seek to spend much more time on the Moon’s surface than the United States managed with Apollo 11, in 1969, Prof Jiao added. During that mission Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent less than three hours on the Moon’s surface.

Sending astronauts to the Moon was the logical next step for China, Prof Pounds said.

“It is a big further step, of course, to put a human on the Moon but the technology is the same. You’ve got to get the spacecraft into orbit, transfer it to the moon [and] get a part of that spacecraft safely onto the surface. All of that is similar whether you are putting down a robot or putting down a human. Obviously, the challenges are more extreme since you need to take more care of a human than a robot.”

“In a decade or more they will definitely be planning to send humans. That is the normal time-scale.”

However, Professor Fu claimed his country was in “no rush to send people to the Moon” pointing out that Beijing first needed to successfully return a robot to Earth.

Ahead of Saturday’s landing, some US scientists had complained the latest Chinese mission might interfere with an ongoing NASA experiment into the Moon’s “dust environment.”

But Prof Pounds argued that Beijing’s apparent bid to place a man on the Moon was good news for science.

President Obama, the US president, has said he wants to see American astronauts orbiting Mars and returning to earth by the mid-2030s and for them to actually land on Mars after that.

But in 2010, Mr Obama scrapped plans to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2020, leading some to question his commitment to human space exploration.

With China now moving closer to putting a man of its own on the Moon, Washington would likely come under political pressure to restart its “stalled” human space programme, Prof Pounds predicted.

“That situation is likely to remain in America until there is a political push to do something more ambitious and I think that could arise from China putting Chinese astronauts onto the Moon.”

“It will be good all round really for people who believe in space exploration like I do if Chinese mission is successful. It will be a great boost to the Chinese program and I think it will give a boost to other nations as well.”

Press journalist for HRO media – Ignacio Damigo Contributed to this report.

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Category: Environment

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