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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.


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.


On December 1, 2014, China sent its first robotic lunar rover, named Jade Rabbit (Yutu, part of the Chang’e-3 mission). It would be the first soft landing on the Moon since 1976, by a Soviet probe; no American soft landings have taken place since the last Apollo manned mission in 1972. (The Chang’e missions are discussed in Section 6.2b, p. 133.)


Credit: China Daily via Reuters

The Jade Rabbit rover is a solar-powered six-wheeled vehicle, similar to NASA’s Mars rovers. It will spend three months exploring and collecting data. A future mission that could take place in several years would be intended to bring back rocks and other samples from the Moon.

Link: NY Times article.