China has successfully soft-landed its Chang’e 3 lander onto the surface of the moon, a major milestone for the state-run space agency.
Named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, China’s Chang’e 3 lander became just the third vehicle to complete a successful soft landing—a process that does not damage the craft or the equipment it carried—onto the surface of the moon. The United States and former Soviet Union also carried out similar missions several decades ago.
In total, the landing process took about 12 minutes, and Chinese researchers will be using this opportunity to study the surface of the moon as well as other extraterrestrial events via the “Yutu” (Jade Rabbit) rover.
China has come a long way in its effort to catch up to the United States and Russia, but there are still much to be done if China intends to have its own space station by 2020. Experts, however, predict that China will make some big leaps and may eventually surpass the U.S and Russia in some areas of space exploration.
“It’s still a significant technological challenge to land on another world,” said Peter Bond, a consultant for Jane’s Space Systems and Industry. “Especially somewhere like the moon, which doesn’t have an atmosphere so you can’t use parachutes or anything like that. You have to use rocket motors for the descent and you have to make sure you go down at a right angle and the right rate of descent and you don’t end up in a crater on top of a large rock.”
Although China has already sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, it doesn’t intend to land one of its own onto the surface of the moon until it has a space station to support such a mission.
“They are taking their time with getting to know about how to fly humans into space, how to build space stations… how to explore the solar system, especially the moon and Mars,” Bond added. “They are making good strides, and I think over the next 10, 20 years they’ll certainly be rivaling Russia and America in this area and maybe overtaking them in some areas.”