On Saturday night, China's first lunar probe, the unmanned Chang'e-3, landed on the moon. It was a big leap for China — only the U.S. and Soviet Russia have soft-landed spacecraft on the moon — and Beijing celebrated its big achievement by having Chang'e-3 and its lunar rover, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), take photos of each other and beam them to Earth. On Sunday night, China state broadcaster CCTV released video of Chang'e-3's landing. (Watch above, or the slower raw footage below)
"The dream of the Chinese people across thousands of years of landing on the moon has finally been realized with Chang'e," said the state-run China News Service. (In Chinese legend, Chang'e is a moon goddess and Yutu is a potion-brewing rabbit companion.) "By successfully joining the international deep-space exploration club, we finally have the right to share the resources on the moon with developed countries."
Outside China, the landing also had a whiff of nostalgia: The last lunar landing was in 1976, by the Soviets, and the U.S. sent six manned expeditions to the moon between 1969 and 1972. Now, America is sending robotic rovers to Mars. But camera technology has come a long way since 1976, and the new video from China is a big improvement over the grainy footage of the early moon landings. Here's Chang'e-3's landing at closer to real-time speed, via CCTV:
And the solar-powered Jade Rabbit rover is reportedly much more advanced than the last rovers sent up by the U.S. and Soviets. It purports to be able to scan 300 feet below the moon's surface, potentially providing valuable information on lunar geography. Aside from the value to science, China is also laying claim to any worthwhile resources the moon might have to offer, like the rare helium 3, and asserting its desire to be taken seriously as a global and cosmic power.
"Despite its benign name, China's Jade Rabbit rover could kindle anxieties among some American politicians and policy makers that the United States risks losing its pre-eminence in space in coming decades," says Chris Buckley at The New York Times. "China's opaque space bureaucracy is overseen by the military, and that has magnified wariness."
But the Chinese know they have their work cut out for them. "Despite current progress, China still lags behind space giants like the United States and Russia in many aspects," said Wu Zhijian, spokesman for China's space agency, at a press conference. "We need to work harder and move faster." Chang'e-5 is set to launch in 2017.
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