China sending lander and rover to the Moon next year

You've got to give credit to China: when it decides to do something, it really pulls out all the stops. Just a month after throwing house party for its brand new space station, China has announced that it's planning to send a lander and a rover to the Moon by the end of next year.

The last time our Moon got any action (barring a few violent exceptions) was when the Apollo 17 astronauts did a bunch of exploring there back in 1972.* For the last 40 years we've been bypassing our closest planetary neighbor for arguably more exciting destinations like Mars, but traditionally, exploring the Moon is one of those merit badges any fledgling space program needs to fulfill before setting its sights farther out. The U.S. went there in person, the Soviets sent a few autonomous bathtubs, and now it's China's turn.

The Chang'e 3 lunar lander will be carrying a rover along with it. The 260-pound, six-wheeled autonomous vehicle will have room for 44 pounds of payload, including a video camera that can stream footage back to Earth in real-time. Solar cells and a radioisotope thermal electric generator will allow the rover to operate for three months (straight through lunar night), and a nice telescope will turn the rover into the world's first lunar-based astronomical observatory.

China is planning to launch the Chang'e 3 mission in the second half of 2013, but this is by no means the end goal for its lunar program: by 2016 or 2017, China will be ready to attempt a much more complex lunar return mission, potentially with a manned mission to follow.

Xinhua, via Physorg

*The Soviets sent a sample return mission in 1976 but besides digging a little bit, it didn't do much exploring.

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook