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Chinese rover ‘soft-lands’ on Moon

Shanghai, Dec. 14: Beijing has successfully carried out the first lunar touchdown in almost four decades, taking it a step closer to its goal of putting a man on the Moon.

China became the first country to “soft-land” on the Moon in nearly four decades today, taking the Asian super-power one step closer to putting a man on the lunar surface.

The unmanned Chang’e-3 spacecraft successfully landed at just before 9.15pm Beijing time, according to Chinese state media. “It landed on the Moon,” state media announced in a live broadcast on Saturday night. “Chang’e has landed.”

Television footage showed dozens of jubilant white-coated technicians and scientists at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre reacting to the news by clapping and embracing each other.

Experts told CCTV, the state television network, that the landing represented a giant leap in Beijing’s push to send astronauts to the Moon.

Yang Yuguang, an expert from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said: “Soft-landing technology is a critical technology necessary for the future manned lunar missions and in the far future we should establish [lunar] bases and utilise resources on the Moon,” he said.The spacecraft will deploy a six-wheeled, solar-powered moon rover called “Yutu” or “Jade Rabbit”.

The Jade Rabbit robot will photograph and study the Moon’s surface using four cameras and two mechanical legs for digging while the stationary “lander” will conduct studies of its own.

“The lander will work for a year while the rover is expected to function for 3 months,” CCTV announced.

Ouyang Ziyuan, the project’s leader, said China’s next step would be to launch a mission capable of returning samples of the Moon to the earth.

“I believe that within two or three years we will be able to carry out very systematic and accurate research with the samples.”

China, India and the US have fired or crash-landed probes on the Moon’s surface in recent years but this was the first soft — or controlled — landing since 1976, when the former Soviet Union’s Luna-24 landed there.

Chang’e-3 was launched on December 2 from a military base in southwest China, carrying with it a six-wheeled moon rover called “Yutu” or “Jade Rabbit” to photograph and study the Moon’s surface.

Prior to departure, the 310lb robot underwent a lengthy testing phase in the Kumtag desert a barren, rainless corner of west China known for its fine sands that was selected because of its similarity to the Moon’s surface. Prof. Fu Song, from Tsinghua University’s School of Aerospace, told The Daily Telegraph the landing would “pave the way for further knowledge of the moon”.

“A soft-landing requires very skillful technical maneuvering. It is not easy.”

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