China's First Lunar Rover Lands
China landed its first lunar rover on the Moon Saturday, less than two weeks after taking off from Earth, Chinese state news reported.

The landing made China one of only three countries - after the United States and the former Soviet Union - to "soft land" on the surface of the Moon, and the first to do so in more than three decades.

Chang'e - 3, an unmanned spacecraft, will release a Jade Rabbit - a six-wheel lunar rover equipped with at least four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up samples of soil to a depth of 30 meters.

The solar energy powered rover will be patrolling the surface of the Moon, studying the structure of the lunar crust as well as soil and rocks, for at least three months. The name of the robot was decided by a public vote online and comes from a Chinese myth on the white pet rabbit of a goddess, Chang'e, which is believed to live on the moon.

Weighing 140 kg, the slow moving rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations and a powerful ultraviolet camera that will monitor the way in which solar activity affects different layers - troposphere, the stratosphere and ionosphere - which make up the atmosphere of the Earth, China's information technology ministry said in a statement.

The jade rabbit is also equipped with radioisotope heater units, allowing it to operate during the cold lunar nights when temperatures plunge as low as -180 ° C (-292 ° F).

The Chinese space program

China has quickly set up its space program since it sent an astronaut into space in 2003. In 2012, the country has made 18 space launches, according to the Pentagon.

The mission Chang'e - 3 is the second phase of the program of lunar exploration for China, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth.

In 2010, China  captured images of the 2013 probe landing site, the Bay of Rainbows, which is considered to be one of the most picturesque places of the moon.

In the next decade, China plans to open a permanent space station in orbit around the Earth.

But scientists in the United States have expressed concern that the Chang'e - 3 mission could distort the results of a study by NASA of the moon dus tenvironment.

The descent of the spacecraft is likely to create a visible plume on the surface of the Moon that could interfere with research already conducted by NASA's lunar atmosphere and dust environment explorer (ladee), Jeff Plescia, president of NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group said in November.

The Chang'e-3 spacecraft blasted off from a Long March 3B rocket in China's Sichuan province on December 2 and reached the moon's orbit at 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from its surface less than five days later.

On Tuesday, it descended on an elliptical orbit with its point only 15 kilometres from the lowest lunar surface, a spokesman for the Administration of China's Science, technology and industry for national defence told Xinhua.

The Soviet Union's Luna 24 probe was the last mission in space to land on the Moon in August 1976 – four years after the United States launched the manned Apollo 17 mission.
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