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The gift of the Jade Rabbit

Some see a rabbit looking upwards as the Moon rises.  The red dot shows where Chang-e & Yutu are located.
Some see a rabbit looking upwards as the Moon rises. The red dot shows where Chang-e & Yutu are located.
anonymous photograph, illustration & composition billy rainbow

Story Corner: to start with a news break, skip to the end, after the link lists, to read a re-telling of the ancient Chinese stories about Chang-e & Yutu, the Jade Rabbit.

The red dots show where Chang-e & Yutu are located.  People see all kinds of things “in the Moon,” it’s what we put on the Moon that counts.
original art & photo recomposition: billy rainbow, 2014 Feb 09

A couple of months ago China safely landed a probe named “Chang-e” on the Moon at a site on the edge of the Bay of Rainbows in the Mare Imbrium. Once landed, Chang-e dispatched a rover called “Yutu” (in English, “Jade Rabbit”). The achievement made China the third nation to land anything on the Moon and the first nation in 37 years to even attempt the feat. The world was instantly agog, dazzled, and notably critical of every other space program past and present for failing to provide a regular diet of spectacular accomplishments. In particular, words like “moribund” were used to describe the American space program.

How quickly the fickle world forgets, which, as usual, is a big part of many problems. During the Apollo era, America’s iconically ADD, barely enough attention span to make it from one commercial break to the next population couldn’t even hold the thought long enough to stay with NASA from Apollo 11 to Apollo 13. Neil Armstrong captivated everyone when he put that first footprint on the Moon, but not even 2 years later when the number-2 oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s service module blew up a few thousand miles short of the Moon, the public had already lost interest in most of the project. Referring to a lack of network coverage previous to the accident, a quote from the 1995 movie, “Apollo 13,” lamented, “All the networks dumped us. One of them said we made going to the Moon about as exciting as taking a trip to Pittsburg.”

However, America loves titillating disaster. Apollo 13’s nearly fatal explosion got everyone’s attention again – for a few days. A week after the crew’s miraculous return, the event, the astronauts, and America’s entire space program, were barely section B material in the newspapers. (Back in those olden days people read newspapers. As far as the average person was concerned, computers were sci-fi stuff that filled big rooms and required scientists to run them, rather than the more powerful versions even grade schoolers now use for making phone calls, tweeting, and posting their Facebook statuses.)

Russia (Soviet Union at the time) lost the race to be the first to land a man on the Moon, but their technologically quite advanced space program did set a couple of rovers down on the lunar surface during the 70s. They looked like stew kettles on wheels, with their disc-shaped solar panels folding off the tops just like pot lids, but they were quite advanced for their time and claimed a number of firsts in space exploration. The Russian program was humanity’s good-bye to landing on the Moon until China’s recent big adventure, unless you count a few things NASA and others have (deliberately) crashed into it during the past handful of years.

Please note that here it is, still shy of two months since Chang-e disgorged Yutu to eagerly wave at the folks back home, and it would be hard to find anyone not Chinese who’s so much as had a passing thought in the past few weeks about China’s new robotic residents of the Moon. Who knows that unhappy Yutu has been having probably mortal mechanical control problems caused by the harsh, unmitigated radiation that bathes the Moon, and the radical temperature differences that don’t make sense to most people on earth. What sympathetic heart has been warmed by Yutu’s poignant farewell message? Cuddled by earth’s atmosphere and its magnetic field, over the course of a year nowhere on the planet experiences temperature differences of more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit, yet on the Moon temperature can vary over 300 degrees just between someplace in the sun, like the sunward side of a forlorn rover, and a nearby one like the rover’s shade.

Even NASA, after very publically congratulating China on its first manned space mission in 2003, except for a laudatory tweet from @NASASolarSystem, has been pretty quiet about the new lander & its rover. Realizing that having an attention span is a job requirement at NASA, perhaps its seeming unsociability is in response to China’s reluctance to share data from the mission. On the other hand, if China doesn’t want to share its space program data with America, then it’s because NASA is prohibited by law from sharing a range of space program data with China. So, it’s not like America, specifically NASA, has any right to expect much. Children can be so frustrating sometimes.

Forgetting the expectable human tendency to forget not just the passion of much that has happened any farther back than last week, but the details and lessons that should have been learned as well, is there any justification for criticizing the non-Chinese world for not providing its share of space-based excitement lately?

The club of nations with assets in space is actually quite large. While only the US, Russia, and China have put actual human people in space, at least 54 nations have either launched their own creations into our sun’s front yard, or paid another spacefaring nation to do it for them. For some it’s just been communication and observation satellites. Others manage to get a little exploration in there with the economic profit-centered ventures and sadly typical military paranoia.

India currently has a probe on its way to Mars, although there seems to be some doubt about whether it will end its mission orbiting Mars as planned. India’s increasing focus on space exploration is seen by some as one side of a nascent “Asian Space Race,” an accusation that India’s own conflicted, glaringly nationalistic coverage of its space program accentuates, despite a number of specious official denials that any such thing involving its regional great power rival, China, could be involved

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been launching all kinds of things into space more or less since at least 1975, depending on what “things” are considered and what definition of “launch” is used. The EU has been fabulous at collaboration and is currently celebrating “50 Years of European Cooperation in Space,” referring to EU member nations’ and EU astronauts’ participation in EU space programs and those of other nations, most notably the US & Russia. Really, it’s what one should expect from an entity that is itself a grand experiment in collaboration.

The ESA installation in Kourou, French Guiana has become the world’s busiest spaceport. Hundreds of satellite launches have been made from Kourou, in part because the spaceport’s location so close to the earth’s equator makes them more efficient. (For instance, the earth’s rotational speed at Kourou, appx. 1033 mph, is 13% faster than the earth’s rotational speed at NASA’s Cape Kennedy, Florida, mostly civilian spaceport. The fuel and other savings to get a payload into orbit and beyond are significant. The same boost economy detail is why a company exists that, despite the added technical & logistical expenses, has been successful in offering launch services from a floating platform in the ocean at the equator where the boost from the earth’s rotation is maximized.)

The ESA has even landed a probe on Mars all its own, all by itself, and it built the Huygens lander that hitched a ride with America’s Cassini spacecraft to Saturn’s moon, Titan. Huygens died after 90 minutes on Titan’s surface approximately as expected, but the touch-down set a record for the most distant landing of anything humans have ever made. (Cassini is still transmitting eye & brain candy data from its orbit around our system’s most magnificently ringed planet.)

Iran has put two monkeys into space, the last one just this past December 14, only two days before China’s robots touched down on the Moon. The monkeys’ flights were sub-orbital, straight up & right back down in a smooth arc. Iran has plans to launch other animals as well, including the world’s first Persian spacecat as early as this coming March. Iranian menagerie launches are hard to beat for raw excitement, unless you’re Israel. Israel will tell anyone who’ll listen that all Iran is doing with its space program is developing ICBMs for the nuclear weapons it’s working on, even though no verifiable evidence of such an Iranian weapons development program has ever been found. Still, just the accusation is way more exciting than giving monkeys 70 to 80 mile-high rocket rides, which explains why we hear so much more about the one than the nothing about the other.

Japan, the country the world most often associates with technological sophistication, especially if it involves electronics, has had a fitful wrestle with space flight despite being the 4th country to have a successful orbital launch. Not including anime, the biggest Japanese successes have relied on launches supplied by others, which includes the Japanese module, “Kibo,” attached to the International Space Station (ISS).

Japan’s Hayabusa sample return probe to asteroid Itakawa characterizes the misadventures that have plagued Japanese space exploration. Its ion engines malfunctioned, its communication gear had problems, its sample retrieval system failed, and it spent three years longer on its trip than expected. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anything going into space without a thorough infusion of Japanese electronics either onboard or on the ground supporting the project, so failing to consider Japan an advanced, spacefaring nation isn’t really fair.

Although the Russian space program lost most of its funding and inspiration to excel with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has remained actively engaged in space exploration and providing launch and other space services to anyone willing to pay for them. Russia has been responsible for launching all the space tourists that have ever flown, and following the retirement of America’s space shuttle fleet, until very recently provided America & all the rest of those interested in the ISS with the only means of ferrying people & cargo to & from the outpost.

In addition to its lunar probes, Russia has sent nearly as many things to Mars as the US has, and almost all the probes to Venus that have ever gone. Including achievements from the Soviet era, Russia has been responsible for an amazing number of firsts that can make “first man on the Moon” seem like letting America have at least one trophy so it wouldn’t be discouraged. Russian space exploration firsts include: first satellite, first person in space, first woman in space, first spacewalk, first soft landing on anything other than the earth, first rover, and first to embarrass the US into doing great things in space in the first place.

So, what has America been doing since merely landing people and lunar dune buggies on the Moon bored everyone to such tears that the last three Apollo missions never lifted off because Congress unfunded them?

America got into the space station business, although a bit behind the Russians who not only put Salyut into orbit before Skylab, but also the much more ambitious Mir before the US could begin launching bits & pieces of the ISS, which was inaugurated by a Russian launch of the first ISS module, Zarya. (We’ll skip America’s highly secretive military space program here. There’s an ample supply of fantastic tales, wild rumors and tinfoil hat paranoia, but little reliable information is to be had concerning much of it. However, what little bit gets published is creepy enough. For example, the 39th National Reconnaissance Office Launch’s (NROL’s) official mission patch features an octopus eating the world. On the other hand, you’re supposed to be comforted by their claim, “Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach”.)

America’s development of reusable “space planes,” its space shuttle fleet, kept it in the manned space flight business using its own launchers until 2011, despite a couple of spectacularly big whoops that killed 14 astronauts and destroyed two of the billion dollar orbiters: in 1986 the Challenger exploded 73.1 seconds after lift-off doing mach 1.92 (1,460 mph) at 46,000 feet (8.7 mi) due to an o-ring that failed in the uncharacteristically intense chill of the morning it launched, and in 2003 the Columbia broke up on re-entry due to wing damage caused by a suitcase-sized chunk of foam insulation that tore loose from an external fuel tank strut 81.9 seconds after lift-off at 66,000 feet (12.5 mi) when the shuttle was accelerating through mach 2.46 (1,870 mph). (The relative impact speed of the appx. 2-pound chunk of foam was about 550 mph – quite a wallop.)

Both accidents deeply traumatized NASA’s manned space program. The Columbia disaster ultimately resulted in early termination of the space shuttle program, which had been tentatively scheduled to continue until after 2020. It also produced one of the most ironic quotes, ever – NASA’s soon to retire chief administrator, Sean O’Keefe, telling the Senate, “For us, ninety-six percent to ninety-nine percent is not an ‘A’. One hundred percent is the minimum passing grade.”

Missions with human astronauts and a steady stream of riveting, blood-pumping Hollywood thrillers aren’t the only way America has been exploring space, the Final Frontier®. If you count individual exploration class satellites the way those who run them do, NASA and JPL currently have over 100 active missions in space, including 2 of 4 rovers landed on Mars since 1997. One of the two, Opportunity, has driven a rover record of over 38 kilometers on Mars during the more than 10 years it’s been cruising the planet.

America’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, arrived on Mars about a year and a half ago. It’s the size of a small car that could fit China’s rover, Yutu, in its trunk. Curiosity has numerous tools and capabilities it’s still fine-tuning as it rambles about, covering the 10 kilometers from its landing site to Mount Sharp, where it’s hoped that the climb will provide data spanning many epochs of Mars’ geologic history. For those with eager imaginations, one of Curiosity’s many discoveries is a mysterious white rock that materialized near the rover where no such thing had been just a few days previously.

The ambitious rover has a primary 2-year mission, but its nuclear power plant gives plenty of hope that it will operate for at least 14 years, and may still be puttering about when the first humans NASA has plans to embark across an interplanetary gulf will orbit Mars in the early 2030s.

Other space probes America has deployed in just the past 10 years have visited and impacted both comets and asteroids in the asteroid belt. One landed on asteroid Eros, while another, spacecraft Dawn, is currently orbiting the largest object between Mars and Jupiter, dwarf planet Ceres, after having completed its mission at Vesta, the second largest rock in the asteroid belt.

The New Horizons probe is currently narrowing in on its primary target, the ex-planet Pluto. Poor Pluto. It used to be a planet, but in 2006 the world’s astronomers decided it just wasn’t fair to all the real planets. Pluto has an inclined orbit that cuts inside of Neptune’s and was probably just adopted by our sun out of sympathy for the homeless. Pluto is awfully small, and its primary moon, Charon, is so big in comparison to Pluto that it noticeably wobbles Pluto’s path around the sun.

America finally decommissioned its Galileo probe to Jupiter in 2003. After 14 years of service it was sent to its doom, to descend into the dense atmosphere of Jupiter where it was crushed like a discarded can. The idea being to prevent it from accidentally impacting & contaminating one of Jupiter’s many moons once it ran out of power and was no longer able to be controlled.

The only two of the sun’s 8 planets that haven’t been orbited by American (or any other) probes are Uranus and Neptune. Various attempts have been made to design probes for orbital missions to study earth’s two most remote sibling planets, but budget constraints have so far scuttled the plans.

We’re still getting regular updates from the two most far-ranging objects our species has ever produced, the Voyager probes. Voyager 2 just left the outermost reaches of the solar system last August and is now investigating interstellar space. It’s gone where no machine has ever gone before. It carries with it a Golden Record illustrating a few of our species’ key characteristics and a map back to the place we call home, which if you ever worry very much about who – or what might be out there, and maybe read the wrong kind of space adventures, begins to sound like an idea that could have been considered more carefully.

The immediate space around the earth is getting so crowded with junk, much of it American, that people have become frightfully worried that pieces of things they no longer want are going to cause problems for the things they do want. Orbital velocities range from about 17,500 mph for things as close as the ISS, to about 2400 mph for whatever would like to share the Moon’s orbit. Even a small screw travelling in an orbit exactly opposite of the ISS would impact it at a relative speed of 35,000 mph. It’s easy to see why people get so excited about the ISS crew dropping screwdrivers while working outside.

For better or worse, America’s modern emphasis on its more pedestrian space projects, like supplying the ISS, have devolved into privatization. While Space X and Orbital Sciences are the only private companies to have launched anything to the ISS themselves, there are many companies positioning themselves for big money contracts and many more involved in economically advantageous spacefaring business with them.

At least three private businesses, Space X, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada, are lining up to compete for NASA manned space flight contracts. 6 of America’s 10 existing space ports – including Cape Kennedy – are working with commercial interests, and all of the 8 spaceports being planned are focused on private enterprise. The next generation’s work with the ISS will be dominated almost exclusively by private businesses (that have been given invaluable boosts by NASA), freeing up the American public’s space agency to concentrate on exploration – if it can only get the funding.

Even if it does get the funding for exploration, it’s funding that will likely be used at least in part to directly benefit private enterprise. NASA has solicited lunar lander designs & implementations from private industry with offers to both fund development and buy equipment & services once developed. In plain language, a senior administrator at NASA states, “The intent of this initiative is to stimulate and help commercialization.”

To be honest, nearly everything America has ever done in space, or much of anywhere else, has been a private industry project in some sense. That’s just the way economics works in America. Americans pay taxes. The American government gives the taxes to businesses that make their owners rich overcharging for what the government could do itself for much less without the middlemen, IF it could be efficient, ethical, and honest with itself (and the American people) while doing it. The latest trends at NASA are simply removing any pretense at pure scientific curiosity and high-minded idealism driving several of America’s showcase projects.

China’s latest accomplishments with Chang-e and Yutu on the Moon inspired the world, but not enough. Space exploration may be our species’ only way of escaping the Malthusian constraints our biology dooms us with here on earth. It provides an essential means for developing our imaginations and literally expands our minds into the limitless universe. In so many ways, space exploration channels some of our best impulses.

We need to eliminate poverty, lack of opportunity on our planet, injustice, and an endless litany of fundamental defects that make us all miserable and condemn humanity’s chances of survival. But such projects are a diet of beans and bread. They enable us to survive, yes, but it’s the chocolate ganache cake, sushi boat restaurant fare, and Cherry Garcia ice cream supplied by adventures like space exploration that make life worthwhile. When we cut NASA’s budget, when we trade our finest dreams for bombs & bullets, when we can’t find ways to provide everyone with the basics they need to live satisfying, meaningful lives and the ability to expand our horizons, we doom ourselves as surely as if we had found a magic lantern, charmed the genii out of it, and in our amazement at being offered three wishes, responded, “Well I’ll be stewed, chewed, and boiled in hot oil!”


Special Bonus Feature! In addition to the fine reporting above, the links, below, are followed by a combo retelling of the Chang-e and Jade Rabbit stories, which is what this article is really all about (in case you thought it was about space exploration programs). Oblique though it may be, the ancient legend will help put the reporting into perspective. Or, you can just read it because it’s a fun story. Tell it to your kids, or your parents. Everyone likes a good story!

Links directory: The article text that the links in the article link from is parenthesized at the end of each line in the links lists. The music video links are intended add guts to the story in ways that simple reporting can’t, and the lyrics for all the tracks have their own links so you don’t miss any of that sometimes not very subtle messaging.

Data Links:

  1. Universe Today (Ken Kremer, 2014 Dec 20) – Stunning Chang’e-3 Lunar Landing Video gives Astronauts Eye View of Descent & Touchdown (landed a probe) The page includes a 6:40 landing camera video that has “CNTV” inverted at the bottom of the screen. That’s because the landing was done looking up at the moon, like docking with the ceiling.
  2. Mail Online (Sam Webb, 2013 Dec 14) – Now THAT'S a great leap forward: Chinese spacecraft makes first 'soft' moon landing in 37 years (world was instantly agog) The article has some good information and great graphics, but gag me with a cheerleader journalism – just like the agog world likes it.
  3. Screenplays for You (William Boyles & Al Reinert) – Apollo 13 (1995) movie script (1995 move, “Apollo 13,”) Movie based on the book, “Lost Moon: The perilous Voyage of Apollo 13” by Jim Lovell, the mission commander.
  4. Xinhua (2014 Jan 25) – China Exclusive: China's moon rover experiences abnormality (mechanical control problems) Note that the out of touch all night problem might be solved if the Chinese space agency (SASTIND) & NASA would cooperate on data-sharing. NASA has a probe orbiting the moon.
  5. The Independent (James Vincent, 2014 Feb 03) – ‘Goodnight Earth. Goodnight humanity’: China’s Jade Rabbit rover tweets its own death (Yutu’s poignant farewell message) Slate has a terribly sweet video clip with cute animation, too.
  6. The Planetary Society (Emily Lakadawala, 2013 Dec 17) – Chang’e 3 update: 6 instruments active, new fan-produced landing video (prohibited by law from sharing) The childish argument over data sharing is about 3/4ths of the way to the bottom of the article.
  7. CNN (Tim Hume, 2013 Nov 05) – Is India's Mars mission the latest escalation in Asia's space race? (India’s increasing focus on space exploration)
  8. The Asian Age (2013 Nov 06) – Can a poor nation afford ₹450 crore Mars Mission? (conflicted, glaringly nationalistic coverage) Recent UN statistics say that 60% of the population of India engages in “open defecation.” I.e., dropping the load right on the plain ground. So, speaking of “conflicted,” re-read the last paragraph of the article.
  9. Popular Mechanics (Joe Pappalardo, 2013 Mar 18) – The Race to Cash in on Earth Orbit (ESA installation in Kourou)
  10. / NBC News (Miriam Kramer, 2013 Dec 16) – Monkey launched in to space returns home, Iran officials say (monkeys into space)
  11. c|net (Jim Hornyak, 2010 Jun 16) – Scientists find asteroid probe, need can opener (Hayabusa sample return probe)
  12. Federation of American Scientists (Marcus Lindroos) – The Soviet Manned Lunar Program (Russian space program)
  13. EnglishRussia (ok4u2bu, 2012 Mar 17) – Soviet and Russian Space Programs (amazing number of firsts) Lots of really great pics!
  14. NASA Spaceflight (William Graham, 2013 Dec 05) – Atlas V launches NROL-39 from Vandenberg (official mission patch) Vandenberg Air Force Base has its very own, exclusive, bustling spaceport.
  15. NBC News (Jay Barbee, 2013 reprint from 1997 Jan) – Chapter 5: An eternity of descent (Challenger exploded)
  16. NASA (2003 Aug) – Report of Columbia Accident Investigation Board (Columbia broke up on re-entry) Far from being the kind of dry, narcoleptic report expected from government agencies, this one includes a lot riveting reading and awesome pics. At the risk of being nerdy, it might even be called a “page-turner.” Higher resolution copies are also available.
  17. (Elizabeth Howell, 2013 Feb 01) – Columbia Disaster: What Happened, What NASA Learned (Columbia disaster)
  18. JPL / NASA (2014 Jan 21) – NASA Hosts News Conference About 10 Years of Roving on Mars (10 years)
  19. Reuters (Irene Klotz, 2014 Jan 21) – Mystery white rock inexplicably appears near NASA Mars rover (mysterious white rock)
  20. NASA (continuously updated) – Mars Science Laboratory (ambitious rover) Includes lots of awesome pic & vid links!
  21. NASA Spaceflight (Chris Bergin, 2013 Oct 06) – NASA Con Ops Assess Baseline Features for SLS/Orion Mission to Mars (NASA has plans)
  22. JPL / NASA – The Golden Record (Golden Record)
  23. Daily Mail (Ellie Zolfagharifard, 2013 Dec 13) – We're surrounded by SPACE JUNK: Incredible image reveals the disused rockets and abandoned satellites that orbit Earth (crowded with junk)
  24. Space Settlement Institute – Private Space Companies (devolved into privatization)
  25. / NBS News (Mike Wall, 2012 Feb 15) – NASA shelves ambitious – and expensive – flagship missions (get the funding) Curbing NASA’s “Flagship” missions really is a stab at space exploration’s heart. It’s the Flagship missions like Curiosity, New Horizons, Voyager, Cassini, Gallileo and the rest that get people’s attention, fire the imaginations of those that have them, and keep other, more dreadful projects like the military’s perception of “necessity” from filling in the gaps and ultimately, taking over.
  26. Reuters (Irene Klotz, 2014 Jan 27) – NASA puts out call for commercial lunar landers (NASA has solicited)

Multimedia Links:

  1. Elton John – Rocket Man (YouTube, 5:22 min – carlossao2) (Apollo 11) Lyrics A vintage tune for vintage achievements. There are all kinds of grainy, low-res video & images on file from the Apollo project. Once upon a time, we worked real wonders. Today, the wonders are more wonderful, but they’re just Hollywood hallucinations.
  2. The Police – Walking On The Moon (YouTube, 4:50 min – MsMaria6363) (first footprint on the Moon) Lyrics Note the lunar dune buggy in the video. That was 40 years ago. So, what’s with all of us not having those kinds of opportunities today? By now we should have several thriving lunar colonies to take for granted instead of getting all giddy about a dinky remote control toy doing a poor imitation of what real humans were up to before most of the people today were born.
  3. Chris Hadfield – Space Oddity (YouTube, 5:30 min – Chris Hadfield) (the astronauts) Lyrics Nothing too deep here, just a real astronaut doing a David Bowie cover in space. He changed the lyrics just a bit because, well, unlike Major Tom, Chris Hadfield came back to earth just fine. J
  4. Bonnie McKee – American Girl (YouTube, 3:48 min – BonnieMcKeeVEVO) (what has America been doing) Lyrics There are several ways to connect this video with the article. Choose one that makes you feel best!
  5. Ke$ha ft. – Crazy Kids (YouTube, 3:52 min – keshaVEVO) (the American people) Lyrics It would be tempting to say the only reason for this video link is because it has an astronaut in it. Ke$ha tends to channel 60s culture, all modernized for the 21st century. So to push start the search for meaning here, please observe that whatever crazy it was, along with the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, hippies, and free love, the 60s are also what put that same American people on the moon.
  6. Avicii – Wake Me Up! (YouTube, 4:32 min – AviciiOfficialVEVO) (Space exploration) Lyrics The message starts between the direction signs.
  7. Motorcycle – Armin Van Buuren Remix – As The Rush Comes (YouTube, 8:21 min – TranceMusicStation) (chocolate ganache cake) Lyrics The lyrics to this are the definition of simple. They say all that needs to be said out loud, the impact part of the message is in the music. That’s why this video is an uncomplicated photograph. There are videos with better visuals, like the Official Version, and random fan videos featuring, for instance, motorcycle racing. But the visuals are just a distraction. You might get more out of the music, and better sense the meaning it has for this article, if you simply shut your eyes, and listen.
  8. Sara Bareilles – Brave (YouTube, 3:57 min – SaraBareillesVEVO) (make life worthwhile) Lyrics NEN.

Chang-e & the Jade Rabbit

According to inscrutable Chinese legend, sometime around 4,000 years ago The Jade Emperor’s 10 sons were transformed into 10 suns. Perhaps they ate too many of those little peppers in their Hunan beef. The well-known afterburner effects from super spicy food might explain how they rose into the air where their fiery brilliance was a bit much for the people of the Earth. The legend doesn’t say anything about the smell, but if it really was the peppers, that must’ve been pretty epic as well.

Houyi, an immortal and famous archer living in Heaven at the time decided to help. He shot 9 of the suns out of the sky, leaving only the one we still see blazing across the firmament today. One must presume that before then the earth had been awfully dark. The legend is unclear on that point, but one could conjecture that eating all those peppers was just an unfortunate consequence of not being able to see what was on the table.

Sun-scorched earth aside, The Jade Emperor wasn’t so stoked about the deaths of his sons. He punished Houyi and Houyi’s wife, Chang-e, by revoking their immortality. They were both majorly bummed by the thanks they got for Houyi’s good deed, so Houyi went on a Big Adventure <insert long, campout-class shaggy dog story here> that earned him a magic pill from the Queen Mother of the West. The pill was a big one that was intended to be broken in half and shared with his wife.

However, after returning from his Big Adventure, Houyi seems to have needed to chill a bit before becoming immortal again. So, he put the pill in a box and left it with Chang-e while he headed off for the local pub to have 3 or 5 cups* of tea. We can only wonder what kind of tea could have distracted him from an immortality pill.

Meanwhile, Chang-e, either out of curiosity, by curious accident, or to “protect” it from bandits (depending on which 4,000 year-old source one considers most reliable), ate the whole pill. Due to an interesting side-effect of overdosing on immortality, Chang-e then floated up into the sky. Houyi, swaggering back from the teahouse, saw her drifting away, but, despite realizing he’d traded immortality for a bender, couldn’t bring himself to shoot her down. At least, that’s the excuse he used.

Eventually, Chang-e ended up on the Moon where the Jade Emperor gave her a Jade Palace to live in. One might wonder why she should have been rewarded with a Jade Palace for hogging out on immortality pill she wouldn’t have needed if it weren’t for being punished by the Jade Emperor in the first place. Then again, maybe living on the Moon back then was more about cold, lonely exile than silvery, soft-lit romance. That is, whether or not you feel like howling when you see a full moon.

A few eras later, back on earth, a nosey god dressed himself in total drag like an old human beggar so he could go check up on the character of a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit named Yutu that were all shacked up together in a really strange roomie situation.

Arriving at their pad, he acted out a starving to death trip on them to see what kind of treatment he would get. The fox and the monkey were basically all, “We can’t do nothin’ for you, man.” They had plenty of food, but weren’t about to share it. On the other paw, the rabbit, Yutu, didn’t have any food himself, but felt so sorry for the old dude that he threw himself into the cooking fire exclaiming that his meat would be quite tasty. Why the fox, at least, hadn’t already figured that out isn’t part of the legend.

The god was so impressed with Yutu’s sacrifice that he sent him to the Moon to live forever in the Jade Palace with Chang-e, who was by then way lonely rattling around in that big, empty palace by herself and annoying all the other immortals with whining for a pet. We can still see the rabbit in the Moon to this day. Or something. Remember, the rabbit was at least cooked, and maybe even eaten before being sent to the Moon. So what you see may look like, well, this is a family story. We’ll leave it at that.

However that comes out, ever since the end of last December anyone without enough imagination to see the outline of a rabbit in the shape of the moon’s dry, airless “seas” could, if they only had a really good telescope, see the Jade Rabbit himself wandering about on the surface of the moon in attendance on Chang-e, right there at their landing site next to the Bay of Rainbows. They’re either just about where the rabbit outline the unaided eye can see would have its paws clasped over its chest, Chinese style, in its big sleeves, or like ticks on the rabbit’s back, depending on how your imagination works.

* “3 or 5 cups”… a reference to the ancient Chinese classic, “All Men Are Brothers,” a must-read for anyone who likes really good legend-type stories. And Jackie Chan. He’s not in the book, of course. But reading it leaves little doubt where he got his inspiration.

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