BEIJING – For the first time in 37 years, a China Space rover has successfully landed on the surface of the Moon. China has touched down on a flat plain know as Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows.
The lander will deploy a robotic rover called Yutu, which translates as “Jade Rabbit.” Official Xinhua news service reported that the craft began its descent just after 1300 GMT and touched down 11 minutes later.
The team stated that ensuring the probe’s soft landing was the most difficult task during the mission. It is the third robotic rover mission to land on the room, but it by far carries the most sophisticated equipment.
“It’s still a significant technological challenge to land on another world,” said Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane’s Space Systems and Industry. “You have to use rocket motors for the descent and you have to make sure you go down at the right angle and the right rate of descent and you don’t end up in a crater or on top of a large rock.”
According to Chinese space scientists, the mission is designed to test new technologies, gather scientific data and build intellectual expertise. It is also scouting for mineral resources.
Its name derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as the pet of the lunar goddess Chang’e.
The rover and lander are powered by solar panels.
Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that China’s space programme was a good fit with China’s concept of “comprehensive national power.” Its ability to fly to the moon can be seen as a reflection of the state’s all-round capabilities.
“It reflects your scientific and technological capabilities, it supports your diplomacy by making you appear strong,” Cheng stated.
The Chinese have undertaken things that only two other countries have done before–the United States and the Soviet Union. It will also provide the Chinese with the opportunity to test their deep-space tracking and communications. The rapid rise of China as a space-faring nation does not amount to a new space race, but countries are keeping a close eye on China.
Regional competition between China and India could fuel the militarization of space, and space is one of the largest political battles of the 21st century.
Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, served as a political appointee at NASA during the George W. Bush administration. “The major geopolitical challenges for the U.S. today are primarily in Asia, with the rising space powers of India and China,” Cheng said.
It is imperative to keep space a calm place, which means collaboration between emerging space nations, such as South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Today, Britain has steered clear of human space missions, instead investing in robotic missions and satellites. This has resulted in a thriving space technology industry for the United Kingdom.
Ironically, the U.S. could lose its leadership in space by pushing so far ahead they leave the rest behind. The Barack Obama Administration scrapped the Bush Administration’s plans to return to the moon, and instead set a goal to land an astronaut on an asteroid- and then push on to Mars.
It has taken patient building and large investments by the Chinese to already advance their space program this far.
The lander will operate there for a year, while the rover is expected to work for three months.
In 2017, a mission to bring lunar soil back to Earth is planned, and even more optimistically, a crewed mission in the 2020’s.
– Chloe Nevitt
Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Washington Post