The moon is the target of China’s next attempt to bolster its rising space exploration program sending on Monday its first ever rover vehicle to land on the lunar surface. As reported in the country’s state media, a rocket named Chang’e will blast off Dec. 2 around 1:30 a.m. local time (Sunday 1730 GMT) carrying “Jade Rabbit” the moon rover. Chang’e will be launched for the country’s first ever moon landing mission from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province as reported by CCTV, China’s state broadcaster.
China’s space program objective is to build a permanent space station by 2020 and from there send an astronaut to the moon in the next few years. But before Beijing can do that they must first successfully land “Jade Rabbit” or Yutu to the moon by Dec. 14 and conduct exploration missions.
Yutu as a name for the moon rover vehicle was chosen by more than three million online voters and garnered the most number of votes from out of the 190,000 proposed names. According to the deputy commander-in-chief of the lunar program, Li Benzheng at a press conference, Yutu symbolizes purity and kindness which also reflects China’s peaceful intention of space exploration. In Chinese mythology, Yutu is a white rabbit that accompanied Chang’e, a lunar goddess, to the moon.
Based on plans, Chang’e and Yutu will land on the moon on a plain called the Sea of Rainbows. After landing on the moon, the six-wheeled rover will spend three months on the surface exploring moon’s available resources. Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute, the moon rover’s primary designer said that many technological innovations were integrated in the design like its “autonomous” navigation system as well as on the way the wheels were designed for maximum grip from the moon’s fine sandy surface.
The lunar rover can likewise ascend surfaces of up to 30 degrees inclination and can cover up to 200 meters in distance per hour, the research agency said. The research firm is an affiliate of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., a company with strong links to the military. In a rare instance, the Yutu prototype was displayed last month at the 15th China International Industry Fair held in Shanghai. Coincidentally, the public display of the moon rover was done alongside the launch of India’s planet Mars mission. India intends to become the first Asian country to reach planet Mars.
China’s space exploration program has seen significant advances in recent years as the country is now targeting to land a lunar rover on the moon. Last October, the country celebrated the 10th year anniversary of its first ever manned space flight. In 2003, aboard the Shenzhou 5 space vehicle, astronaut Yang Liwei circled the earth 14 times on a 21-hour space flight. After that, China launched five more missions and sent to space a total of 10 astronauts (two women and eight men). One of these space missions was the launching of the orbiting space module Tiangong 1.
The country then sent two lunar probes which orbited the moon for another round of exploratory and survey missions. Later, one of the probes was sent crashing to the moon by its controllers after completing its missions.
When compared to the space program of the U.S., China’s current aggressive stance leaves its U.S. counterpart’s initiatives pale in comparison. The American’s final space shuttle flight was completed in 2011 and plans for future space explorations seem sketchy as of the moment. But this does not erase the fact that China learned its space exploration lessons from the U.S. as well as with Russia whose space achievements are still far more advanced as compared with the rest. And with the moon as the next target of China’s space exploration program, the country dreams of catching up soon with the leaders someday.
By Roberto I. Belda