For the first time in almost 40 years, humans are landing a rover on the Moon. Assuming that China's Chang’e 3 mission, which launched yesterday, successfully lands its six-wheeled Jade Rabbit rover, it will reopen a decades-old question: Who owns the Moon?
The rocket carrying the rover blasted off successfully from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China, and its journey to the Moon is expected to take about two weeks. Once there, China will attempt a "soft" landing of its rover, called "Yutu" in Chinese, which hasn't been done since Soviet Russia landed its Luna 24 rover for soil sampling in 1976.
A soft landing is precisely what it sounds like: Unlike recent Moon missions like NASA's GRAIL, in which a pair of satellites smashed into the Moon at the conclusion of their orbital work, China hopes the nuclear-powered rover will make a gentle enough landing in the Sinus Iridum crater to be able to roll out and do its survey work, which is expected to last about three months.
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