China has announced the successful soft landing of its Chang’e 3 spacecraft – the first such landing for mankind since 1976.
“Chang’e-3 has successfully carried out a soft-landing on the moon. This makes the China world’s third nation to achieve a lunar soft landing,” said the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in an online post.
State news agency Xinhua published a poignant editorial on the “historic breakthrough.”
“Space exploration is the cause of mankind, not just ‘the patent’ of a certain country,” the editorial said. “China will share the achievements of its lunar exploration with the whole world and use them to benefit humanity.”
The Chang’e 3 craft, which is named after a Chinese moon goddess, safely landed on a 250-mile-wide plain known as The Bay of Rainbows. Using sensors and 3D imaging, the craft first located a flat surface. Rockets fired 330 feet above the lunar surface and slowly guided the ship down to its landing position. The entire process began around 8 a.m. EST and lasted about 12 minutes.
The Chinese space agency said it was slated to release its Yutu rover from the landing craft “a few hours” after landing, according to a post on Chinese social media. Yutu, or jade rabbit, will spend approximately three months cruising around the lunar surface in an effort to find natural resources.
“China wants to go to the moon for geostrategic reasons and domestic legitimacy,” Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College, told the AFP.
“With the US exploration moribund at best, that opens a window for China to be perceived as the global technology leader — though the US still has more, and more advanced, assets in space,” she added.
In November, officials from the European Space Agency said they would be assisting their Chinese counterparts’ moon mission.
“We are proud that the expertise of our ground station and flight dynamics teams and the sophisticated technologies of our worldwide Estrack network can assist China to deliver a scientifically important lander and rover to the Moon,” said Thomas Reiter, a director of human spaceflight and operations for the ESA. “Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone.”
ESA’s station in Kourou, French Guiana, was assigned with the responsibility of receiving signals from the Chang’e-3 during launch and sent commands on behalf of the Chinese control center. The craft was then tracked by the ESA through its entry into lunar orbit and until just before its descent to the Moon’s surface.
“After the lander and rover are on the surface, we will use our 35-meter diameter deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, to provide ‘delta-DOR’ location measurement,” said Erik Soerensen, a mission tracker with the ESA. “Using this delta-DOR technique, you can compute locations with extreme accuracy, which will help our Chinese colleagues to determine the precise location of the lander.”