If all goes well, expect another moon robot very soon. The Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover will lift off from China as a part of the Chang’e-3 mission — target launch date Sunday (Nov. 29) — to explore the moon’s Sea of Rainbows after its scheduled landing two weeks later, Dec. 14.
There are other spacecraft orbiting the moon — including the newly launched LADEE from NASA, which is checking out the moon’s tenuous atmosphere — but if this mission succeeds, it would be the first soft landing since Russia’s Luna-24 in 1976. That’s a 37-year drought.
Recent English information on the mission is scarce, but it’s been widely reported that the mission will include a lander in a six-wheeled rover. This Chinese news agency notes that planners expect to put up an astronomical telescope, test remote control between the moon and the Earth, and explore areas around the landing location. You can also read (dated) background information on the mission on the Chinese National Space Administration’s website.
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The European Space Agency (ESA), meanwhile, released a press update describing how people from its organization will help track the mission during its journey to the moon. The Europeans will be helping the Chinese track the mission all the way to the time it is expected to reach the surface. After the mission lands, ESA will use two antennas to perform a measurement intended to figure out — “with extreme accuracy”, the agency says — where the lander is located.
And for those who remember, a fun bit of history from 1969 recalled by the Planetary Society: during Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon, this ground-to-moon exchange actually happened:
Capcom: Roger. Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
Buzz Aldrin, slated to be second man on the moon: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.