Moon Rabbit Breaks Dry Spell

When I read the article today, I could not believe I missed this. I could also not believe the lack of media coverage in general. We’re back on the Moon!

On the 14th December China’s Chang’e 3 lander touched down on the surface of the Moon. This is the first soft landing there since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976 – a 37 year dry spell that followed a previously intense period of space exploration. The recent touchdown follows the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiter missions in 2007 and 2010.

The unmanned Chang’s 3  lander hovered 100m above the surface as it analysed the local features searching for a safe landing spot. Once it was satisfied in its choice of landing pad it throttled down its engine and free-fell to land on its springy legs.

The robotic lander was controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Of course, these days no visit to a celestial neighbour is complete without a robotic rover. A few hours after landing, the Chang’e – named after the Chinese goddess – released its Yutu moon rover. Yutu is named after the pet rabbit the goddess carries with her on her travels. The rover’s wheels were unlocked by the firing of explosive devices, after which the rover unfurled its solar wings and deployed its instrument mast. Twin ramps then inched down to the lunar surface, allowing the rover to roll down them onto the dust.

Yutu is a six-wheeled robot that weighs around 140 kg and has a 10km range. It’s outfitted with navigation and both panoramic cameras and hazard-avoidance cameras fitted to its lower front portion. No reversing cameras though – parking is generally no problem on the Moon.

The solar-powered rover will hibernate through the bitter chill of the Moon’s 14 day night. Once it wakes up it will deploy its nifty Proton X-ray spectrometer, which will be used to examine lunar material, particularly ejecta that will give clues about what lies beneath the lunar surface. The data will also help researchers develop better impact-cratering models.

Yutu is also equipped with ground penetrating radar, which is useful to carrying surveys of the sub-surface up to 100m depth. Variation in the radar wavelength can allow more detailed mapping of the shallower surface areas. Exploration of the deeper areas will be at the trade-off of lower resolution.

I for one am glad the dry spell is over. This is really exciting news.

Was anyone out there following the Chang’e 3 landing?

PS: Don’t forget to enter The Calvanni Book Giveaway.

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