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On December 14, 2013, China became the third nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon, a so-called ‘soft’ landing. This is also the first such lunar landing in 37 years.

Credit: Wang Jianmin/XinHua, via AP

The Chang’e-3 landing craft carried a solar-powered, robotic rover called the Jade Rabbit (Yutu in Mandarin Chinese), which emerged several hours later to begin exploring Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, a relatively smooth plain formed from solidified lava. According to a Chinese legend, Chang’e is a moon goddess, accompanied by a Jade Rabbit that can brew potions that offer immortality.

yutu01_cnsa_960

Credit: Chinese National Space Administration, Xinhuanet

A later Chang’e mission, perhaps sometime before 2020, is intended to bring back rocks and other samples from the Moon, and that will need a larger craft capable of sending a vehicle back to Earth. That mission will also need a more powerful launch rocket, which China is also developing.

Links: NY Times article, BBC News report, APOD coverage.

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