China’s first-ever moon lander will be launched early next month. The robotic mission will include a rover, which was named after the Moon Rabbit of Chinese folklore. The landing may compromise NASA’s current lunar mission.
The lander and the rover are both part of the Chang’e-3 mission, the third in a series named after the Chinese moon goddess. Continuing the folklore naming trend is the name of the rover, which was called Yutu after the goddess’s pet rabbit.
Yutu, also known as Jade Rabbit, is the Chinese counterpart to the western ‘man in the moon’, a creature, whose outline is said to be visible on the moon’s surface. The legend envisions the rabbit compounding the elixir of immortality for Chang’e.
The name for the six-wheeled 120-kg rover was chosen in an online poll, with 3.4 million people taking part, the Xinhua news agency reported.
“Yutu is a symbol of kindness, purity and agility, and is identical to the moon rover in both outlook and connotation,” it quoted Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s lunar program, as saying.
“Yutu also reflects China’s peaceful use of space,” he added.
The solar battery-powered rover is to spend at least three months studying the moon’s surface in the Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, to the north-west of the Sea of Rains. The landing site was chosen based on surface imaging provided by the previous Chang’e mission in 2010. It is located not far from where the Soviet Luna 17 lander touched down back in 1970 when it deployed the Lunokhod-1 rover.
Meanwhile the 1.2-ton lander itself will be conducting a scientific mission of its own. It is equipped with a payload of seven instruments, including an astronomical telescope, which would make it the world’s first-ever moon-based observatory.
Further Chinese lunar missions are to involve soil sample retrieval in 2017. In 2025 Beijing wants to send a manned mission to the moon. The ambitious domestic space program is viewed in China as a sign of its growing international power.
Chang’e, however, may pose a challenge to NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a probe currently commissioning its instruments for the upcoming study of the moon’s exosphere.
“The arrival of the Chang’e 3 spacecraft into lunar orbit and then its descent to the surface will result in a significant contamination of the lunar exosphere by the propellant,” Jeff Plescia, a space scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory told the space.com website.
If the probe does not establish the baseline for its observations by the time the Chinese spacecraft arrives, the contamination may disrupt the mission. But the same contamination also offers a unique opportunity, Plescia added.
“LADEE will be able to observe how the propellant becomes distributed into the lunar exosphere and then how it is later removed,” he explained.