On the heels of a space success earlier this summer -- the launch of the Chinese space program’s second manned mission with the Shenzhou 10 -- Chinese scientists have their sights set on the moon. China has announced that it will be launching the program’s first lunar probe in less than a month.
The State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense announced to state media that China’s Chang’e-3 lunar probe will launch at the beginning of December and land on the moon at some point in mid-December. The successful launch of the Chang’e-3, equipped with the Yutu, or ‘Jade Rabbit’, moon rover, will mark the first time a Chinese spacecraft has attempted to soft-land on any space body, and the first soft landing on the moon since the 1976 Soviet Luna probe.
The six-wheeled lunar rover is equipped with four cameras and two mechanized “legs” that can be used for digging and collecting soil samples from the moon surface. A public vote determined the name of the rover, and is based on ancient Chinese folklore: the mythological jade rabbit lives on the moon.
“Yutu is a symbol of kindness, purity and agility, and is identical to the moon rover in both outlook and connotation,” Li Benzheng, the deputy commander-in-chief of the lunar mission, said at a conference in Beijing. “Yutu also reflects China’s peaceful use of space.”
The name got 650,000 votes in the online poll of an estimated 2.4 million people. Other names in the running included Qian Xuesan, the name of a renowned scientist noted for being the “father of the Chinese space program,” and “tansuo,” which means “explorer.”
China’s space program has rapidly reached several milestones in a relatively short time. China has already sent two probes to orbit the moon, completing the mission with a crash landing. June 2012 marked the first manned spacecraft docking by China’s program, and just a year later, the Shenzhou 10 marked the country’s second manned mission. According to Space.com, China’s third and last phase of ‘Project 921’ is expected to be completed sometime before 2020, which would be to orbit a basic permanent space station.