(Source: China News)
The first of its kind in nearly four decades, the rover is now exploring the sandy basalt crater-plane by day

Welcome to the history books.

China on Saturday became only the third nation (after the U.S. and Russia) to accomplish a soft-landing on the moon, which is no simple task.

In order to coax the moon probe into a gentle landing, the Chinese lander was equipped with state-of-the-art mini rockets, which allowed it to gently hover above the lunar surface.  This allowed it to avoid small boulders and large rocks that littered parts of its Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) landing site.

Landing occured at around 1:11 p.m. UTC/GMT, 8:11 a.m. EST.

China Chang'e 3 hover
Chang'e 3 used its hovering jets to touch down softly on Saturday. [Image Source:]

Using its high-resolution imaging and hovering capabilities, the craft safely touched down in the Bay of Rainbows, a basalt sand/rock crater plane in the Lunar north.  After landing safely, the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover climbed off the Chang'e 3 spacecraft without issue on Saturday, snapping pictures.

Chang'e 3 is named after a Lunar goddess of Chinese lore.

Chang'e 3 landed
Chang'e 3, post-landing. [Image Source:]

The Yutu rover stands 150 cm tall (roughly 5 feet, or just slightly shorter than the height of an average human), and features a six-wheel independent bogie-style suspension, similar to the rovers that the U.S.National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used to rove the moon in decades past. It has been nearly four decades since the U.S. and Russia last roamed the moon. 

Yutu rolls off the ramp
The Yutu rover rolls off the ramp. [Image Source: Weibo]

China Yutu shot
A picture of the offloaded rover is snapped by Chang'e 3 [Image Source: CCTV]

China's first and second Lunar probes provided mankind with unprecedented map of the Lunar surface.  Over the next few months Yutu will add yet more insight, "tasting" the chemicals in Lunar rock and exploring the Lunar dirt/crust with ground-penetrating radar. 

Lunar soil
The Lunar soil, as seen by Yutu [Image Source: Weibo]

The lander is powered by a radioisotope heater, while the rover is powered by a solar panel.  Both will only operate by day to safeguard their sensitive electronics from the chilling northern Lunar night.

Jade Rabbit
An artist's diagram depicts Yutu ("Jade Rabbit"), China's Lunar rover. [Image Source: AFP]

These studies will provide unprecedented insight into the Lunar crust.

A toy model of the rover. [Image Source:]

China plans to follow up on the success with another similar probe (Chang'e 4 2015/2016), followed by a more advanced variant in 2017, Chang'e 5, which will feature a detachable return module, which will redock with the orbiter and rocket back to Earth with > 2 kg (~4.4 lb.) of rock samples on board.

The Asian giant's goal is to eventually have a manned Lunar mission (likely next decade) followed by a Taikonaut Lunar colony.  The U.S. has essentially surrendered in this race, saying that it's likely unable to match China in its return to the Moon.

It should be noted that China isn't doing this effort without a bit of help.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is assisting the China National Space Administration (CNSA) with sending signals to Chang'e 3/Yutu via a station in Frech Guiana that provided telemetry data on the probe during its flight to the moon.

The U.S. and China have satellites in orbit, however, these receivers broadcast at too low a signal strength to reach a Lunar lander.  To send such a signal high-power ground based dish-style transmitters are necessary.  Most of the control of the rover and lander will be carried out via Chinese satellite stations.  However, as the Earth is constantly spinning, China relied on its partner, the ESA, to provide it with telemetry data during the flight to the Moon, and will likely use the ESA as a backup for Lunar communication with the lander/rover in the case of emergency.

KourouThe Kourou in French Guiana tracking station helped track Chang'e 3 during liftoff, providing the CNSA with telemetry data. [Image Source: ESA]

The Parkes Observatory in Australia offered similar capabilities to the U.S. during the Apollo program, which remains the only successful international effort to land humans on the Moon (although China may soon change that).

Sources: AFP on Google News, Telegraph [video]

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