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China's Chang'e-3 successfully lands on the Moon

Yutu rover and Chang'e-3 lunar lander
Yutu rover and Chang'e-3 lunar lander
Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering

Score a big win for China!

China's Chang'e-3 lander successfully reached on the Moon today, marking the first time China has soft-landed a spacecraft on the Moon. The Yutu rover quickly undocked from the lander, and the lander/rover have photographed each other.

The lander will operate for at least a year primarily as an astronomical platform. Its RTG power source will allow an ultraviolet camera to capture observations throughout the lunar day and night cycles.

The Yutu rover will now wander the surface of the Moon for a similar length of time, with an extended mission likely. Yutu carries instruments for sampling regolith geology. One of the stated goals for Yutu is to search for "useful resources."

This begs the question, useful for what? Western media has devoted much speculation to the goals of the Chinese space program. Chang'e-3 and Yutu improve our understanding of these goals. This mission seems well suited as a precursor towards a manned lunar landing, leading to long term lunar habitation.

At the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, Chinese president Xi Jinping personally congratulated many of the engineers who made the mission possible. The president touted Chang'e-3 as a success of the Chinese socialist state. Vice-premier Ma Kai also delivered a message of congratulations from the Chinese military, hailing the future of the Chinese space program and stating (translated), "There are tougher and more difficult tasks ahead."

Indeed there are. China doesn't appear ready to rest on their laurels anytime soon. Their space program continues to gather momentum and seems ready to pursue ever more ambitious goals.

Hopefully someone in Washington DC is paying attention...