China’s first moon rover has touched the lunar surface and left deep traces on its loose soil, state media reported, hours after the country successfully carried out the first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades.
The 140-kilogram “Jade Rabbit” rover separated from the much larger landing vehicle early Sunday, around seven hours after the unmanned Chang’e 3 space probe touched down on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon.
It's still a significant technological challenge to land on another world. Especially somewhere like the moon.
State broadcaster China Central Television showed images taken from the lander’s camera of the rover and its shadow moving down a sloping ladder and touching the surface, setting off applause in the Beijing control center.
It said the lander and rover, both bearing Chinese flags, would take photos of each other Sunday evening.
Later, the six-wheeled rover will survey the moon’s geological structure and surface and look for natural resources for three months, while the lander will carry out scientific explorations at the landing site for one year.
The mission marks the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
China’s space program is an enormous source of pride for the country, the third to carry out a lunar soft landing, which does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries, after the United States and the former Soviet Union. The last one was by the Soviet Union in 1976.
“It’s still a significant technological challenge to land on another world,” said Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane’s Space Systems and Industry.
“Especially somewhere like the moon, which doesn’t have an atmosphere so you can’t use parachutes or anything like that. You have to use rocket motors for the descent and you have to make sure you go down at the right angle and the right rate of descent and you don’t end up in a crater on top of a large rock.”
On Saturday evening, CCTV showed a computer-generated image of the Chang’e 3 lander’s path as it approached the surface of the moon, saying that during the landing period it needed to have no contact with Earth. As it was just hundreds of meters away, the lander’s camera broadcast images of the moon’s surface.
China’s military-backed space program has made methodical progress in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the United States and Russia in technology and experience.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently.