In a spectacular launch reminiscent of the Apollo-era missions, China successfully launched a robotic mission to the Moon.
On Sunday at 12:30pm EST (1:30am December 2, Beijing time) China’s space agency launched a modified Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province. Atop this rocket sat the Chang’e 3 lunar lander and a rover named ‘Yutu’ – which means Jade Rabbit, the pet rabbit of the Moon goddess Chang’e.
When the lander touches down in mid-December it will be the first soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet probe Luna 24 touched down on the lunar surface 37 years ago.
A live English-language webcast allowed viewers around the world to follow the launch. The broadcast was provided by China’s state-run television network CCTV.
The three-stage Long March 3B rocket was 55m (185 feet) tall when it launched, or about the height of a 15-story building.
Following separation from the rocket, Chang’e 3 successfully deployed its landing legs and solar panels.
On December 6, Chang’e 3 will fire its engines to enter lunar orbit. This will set up a December 14 landing.
Coincidentally, December 14 is the last day a human was on the moon. This was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
The Yutu rover is powered primarily by solar panels; however it also has a small nuclear power source to provide heat to its instruments during the Moon’s nights – when the temperature drops to a chilling minus 170° Celsius.
Yutu is 1.5 meters tall and weighs approximately 120 kilograms.
Chang’e 3 is China’s third mission to the Moon. Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 were both lunar orbiting missions. They launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively.