In Chinese folklore, the familiar spots Westerners see as the face of the man in the moon instead outline Yutu the Jade Rabbit. A robotic version of Yutu successfully launched to the moon today at 11:30 a.m. CST (1:30 a.m. Dec. 2 China time). The mission, named Chang’e-3 after the female Chinese moon goddess, marks China’s first attempt at landing a probe on another world. If successful, it will be the first soft-landing on the moon since the 1976 Russian Luna-24 sample return mission.
Today’s liftoff of the Chang’e-3 mission to the moon
After setting down near the 5.6-mile-wide (9 km) crater Laplace A in the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridium on Dec. 14, the 265-pound (120 kg) rover will roll of a the lander’s ramp and onto the lunar surface. Powered by solar cells, Yutu is expected to operate for at least 3 months and explore within a 3-miles (5 km) radius of the lander.
Meanwhile the lander will serve as a stationary science station and run off electricity generated by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). RTGs convert the heat radiated by the decay of plutonium-238 into electricity.
The lander is equipped with seven instruments and cameras for studying the lunar environment. The main instrument is a telescope for viewing the sky in near-ultraviolet light. With no atmosphere to filter UV out, scientists will photograph galaxies, stars and the Earth.
It’s only a hope, but wouldn’t it be nice if mission control uses either the rover or lander cameras to make a few time exposures of the perpetually dark lunar sky, preferably with the Earth in the frame. As long as we’re there, wouldn’t you like to see our planet’s globe suspended among the stars of another world?
While the Apollo astronauts photographed the Earth from the moon’s surface, they only captured the bright planet, not the stars. To do that would have required a time exposure and tripod, a task (and equipment) not on their list of a million things to do in the short time they spent on the moon.
Jade Rabbit will also use its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on a robotic arm to zap lunar rocks with alpha particles (helium nuclei) and X-rays and measure what’s scattered back to determine their elemental composition. It will also take pictures, shoot real-time video and carries a ground-penetrating radar device in its belly for measuring lunar soil depths down to 98 feet (30 m) and moon’s rocky crust to almost 1000 feet (300 m).
Yutu can explore on its own but will be controlled and guided from Earth when necessary. The Chang’e-3 mission was preceded by the Chang’e 1 and 2 lunar orbiters and will be followed by a sample return flight and ultimately by a manned moon landing of taikonauts, the Chinese word for astronauts from the Cantonese ‘taikon’ or cosmos.