A Chinese lunar rover landed Saturday, making China the third country to ever successfully 'soft-land' on the moon.
On Saturday morning, Chinese state television reported the Chang'e-3, an unmanned spacecraft carrying a lunar rover that will carry out experiments and collect geological samples, "soft-landed" on the moon. The ship left earth about two weeks ago. A soft-landing occurs when the rocket is designed to touch down as gently as possible. Yes, they are generally preferred to hard landings.
Unfortunately, landing on the moon in the 21st century is still a pretty big deal. Only three countries have ever soft-landed on the moon— the United States, the U.S.S.R. and now China. You'll notice one doesn't even exist anymore. But let's not be too hard on the U.S.S.R. because they were also the last country to carry out a similar mission, almost four decades ago — all the way back in 1976.
China's lunar rover, also known as the Jade Rabbit, will spend three months on the moon digging dirt and collecting samples, with tools that can reach 30 meters into the ground. CNN has more on the Jade Rabbit:
Weighing 140 kilograms, the slow-moving rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations and a powerful ultraviolet camera that will monitor how solar activity affects the various layers -- troposphere, stratosphere and ionosphere -- that make up the Earth's atmosphere, China's information technology ministry said in a statement.
Today's success will mean full speed ahead for China's planned man-on-the-moon ambitions. Of course, Japan also plans to touch down in 2017. It's a race, folks, but so far China seems to be the hare.