While many probably remember using their childhood imaginations to turn the Moon’s dark markings into a picture of a rabbit on the Moon, just recently China put a different sort of rabbit on the Moon: a lunar probe dubbed “Jade Rabbit.” Now, they have followed up by releasing pictures of the probe in action.
Last weekend, China’s National Space Administration made China the first nation to make a soft landing on the Moon since 37 years ago. The Soviet Union’s probe, Luna 2, was the first on September 14, 1959, followed by the United States, who eventually caught up with and surpassed the Soviet Union by putting the first human on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, on July 20, 1969.
Jade Rabbit was launched on December 1 with the mission of exploring the Moon’s surface in an attempt to locate natural resources. It will be deployed on this mission for a period of three months.
China’s State TV broadcast live video of the probe leaving its lander, the Chang’e 3, and proceeding down a ramp onto the Moon’s surface. The lander set down in a region called Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows). It is being controlled from China with the aid of the European Space Agency.
The probe reportedly shut down its explorations on December 16 due to high temperatures with plans to leave it inactive until December 23, but it was started up again on December 20 in order to gain more research time.
China has future plans to launch more unmanned lunar probes in 2017 to bring back samples from the Moon. This follows a recent announcement by President Xi Jinping calling upon the country to solidify its place in the word as a space power.
The country has aspirations of putting a human on the Moon by 2025, an area which has up until now been dominated by the United States, who last landed a man on the Moon in 1972 with astronaut Eugene Cernan.
China’s recent attention to the Moon appears to have once again stirred up American interest in space exploration. In the December issue of New Space magazine, Christopher McKay makes an argument that the U.S. should consider setting up a lunar research base, citing among his reasons the fact that it is important to maintain U.S. influence on the Moon.
The name of the probe comes from a Chinese legend which describes how the jade rabbit came to live on the moon. In the legend, three wise men decide to test the character of a fox, a monkey and a rabbit by turning themselves into beggars and asking all three animals for food. Only the rabbit proves himself worthy by sacrificing his own life to help the men. Impressed by the rabbit’s generosity, the men granted him eternal life living on the moon. However, only time will tell whether China’s growing influence on the Moon will also remain eternal.
By Nancy Schimelpfening
China: The Legend of the Jade Rabbit – Rabbit Moon