Sunday, December 15, 2013

China's Jade Rabbit, it's time in the Sun

Yutu on Imbrium
China's "Yutu," the "Jade Rabbit," rolls out onto Mare Imbrium, Sunday, December 14, 2013. Still from master video display in Beijing [CN].
Mike Killian

Today, exactly 41 years after the last human footprint was made on the moon by Gene Cernan, China became the third nation to touch the lunar surface – joining an exclusive club and earning a round of applause from around the world.

The last lunar landing was performed by the Soviet Union on the Luna 24 sample return mission in 1976, and the United States remains the only country to have ever landed humans on the lunar surface (last human mission to the Moon was NASA’s Apollo 17 in December 1972). 

The mission, named Chang’e 3 after the Chinese goddess of the Moon in ancient myth, is China’s third unmanned lunar mission, but it’s also the first landing – the next step in China’s ambitious Lunar Exploration Program.  Chang’e 1 launched in 2007, and Chang’e 2 launched in 2010. Both missions orbited the Moon and carried out various studies, while also mapping the surface in its entirety, and both missions paved the way for Change’3 to land on the surface.

Chang'e-3 landing site
Another LROC NAC observation of the landing site of China's Chang'e-3 lunar lander and Yutu rover, this opportunity around half a meter per pixel superior in resolution than one noted earlier. The vehicles have separated following the successful landing, December 14, 2013 - the 41st anniversary of the last moonwalk of the Apollo program in 1972. 638 meter-wide field of view from LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) observation M1116664800R, orbit 16786, February 28, 2013; angle of incidence 44.83, resolution 1.1 meter per pixel from 145.32 km over 44.61°N, 340.3°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
The mission began two weeks ago today with a picture-perfect liftoff from the country’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.  Chang’e 3 soared skyward into the black of night atop a powerful Long March-3B rocket, and minutes later the Chang’e 3 lunar lander and its six-wheeled rover, named Yutu, or “Jade Rabbit,” separated from the rocket’s third stage while coasting into a beautiful sunrise 300 kilometers over the Pacific Ocean.  From there it was a five-day trip to reach lunar orbit, and a week later for Chang’e 3 to begin its descent.

Read the full article, HERE.

Chang'e-3 Landing Site
A 2318 meter-wide, full-resolution field of view from the same LROC NAC observation, M1116664800R [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

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