China launches first Moon landing mission since 1976

With our recent trips to Mars and beyond, it's easy to take a "been there, done that" attitude towards exploration of the Moon. But not for China, which has been steadily building up its space program over the last few years.

China has successfully launched a Long March rocket on a mission named Chang'e-3, carrying a lunar rover called Jade Rabbit. The rover is about the size of a small camping trailer and weighs a little over 300 pounds. Its mission is to do a bunch of typical science related stuff, like analyzing rocks and soil, mapping the landing area, and making astronomical observations using an optical telescope and ultraviolet cameras. Of course, seeing as the mission is being run by the top secret Chinese military, there's no telling what else they might be planning to do up there.

Chang'e-3 will be the first man-made object to land in a controlled manner on the Moon since the Soviets landed Luna 24 in August of 1976. The U.S. hasn't landed anything on the Moon's surface since the manned Apollo 17 mission way back in 1972. In the 37 years since Luna 24, there have been eight missions that have intentionally crashed into the Moon's surface, but that's a whole lot easier than making a soft landing and sending back data.

If all goes according to plan, Chang'e-3 will arrive on December 14, and the Jade Rabbit rover will begin its 90 day exploratory mission.

Check out the video below to see the launch of China's Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang'e-3.

New Scientist, via Engadget


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