China to land its first Moon probe next month

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

NASA LADEE mission
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

Chinese officials have confirmed that they’ll be landing the country’s first-ever unmanned Moon probe next month. The craft’s name, Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”), is based on a Chinese folk tale that says a rabbit lives on the Moon’s surface. The rover will be carried by a landing vehicle, and then explore an area called the Bay of Rainbows.

Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s lunar program, said, “Yutu is a symbol of kindness, purity, and agility, and… Yutu also reflects China’s peaceful use of space.” The six-wheeled and roughly 265-pound rover is solar battery-powered. Also, the 1.2-ton lander that’s delivering the rover has seven instruments to perform its own mission, and because it carries an astronomical telescope, it’ll technically be the world’s first-ever moon-based observatory!

While this is all great news for China, Yutu might cause issues for NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which is currently preparing to study the Moon’s exosphere (a thin, atmosphere-like layer). Jeff Plescia, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, said, “The arrival of the Chang’e 3 spacecraft into lunar orbit and then its descent to the surface will result in a significant contamination of the lunar exosphere by the propellant.” So, it’ll basically spray material that might mess with LADEE’s ability to collect accurate data. However, it does present a unique opportunity for NASA to study how Yutu’s gas and dust behave on the Moon.

Image of LADEE courtesy of NASA.