While the world’s most populous nation remains distantly behind the United States and Russia in terms of rover technology, their Monday landing of the Chang’e 3 rover will mark their first lunar exploration mission. It is major milestone for the nation and a step forward in their emerging space program.
The rover mission derives is named after the Lunar goddess Chang’e whose secret to eternal life comes from herbs ground down for her by Yutu, the jade rabbit that visible on the moon’s surface. This marks China’s third exploration of the moon and their first landing. The first two missions used probes which would gather information up to the point of impact on the surface. China conducted an online poll to name the rover itself and settled on the name “Yutu”. Three million people submitted names for the rover.
China has begun a quest to build a space station by the year 2020 and subsequently send an astronaut to the moon. China’s space program is run by their military. As per the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute, Yutu will be able to travel up to 200 meters per hour (~1/8th of a mile) and scale up heights of 30 degrees.