TOUCH­DOWN

Chang’e-3 lands on lu­nar sur­face, re­al­iz­ing China’s long- cher­ished dream to reach the moon

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI » zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

AChi­nese lu­nar probe soft landed on the moon at 9:11 pm on Satur­day, mak­ing China the first na­tion to put a probe on the moon in nearly four decades. As an es­ti­mated hun­dreds of mil­lions watched China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion’s live broad­cast, the 3,780-kilo­gram probe Chang’e-3 be­gan at 9 pm to de­scend on a par­a­bolic tra­jec­tory from 15 kilo­me­ters above the moon’s sur­face.

Be­fore touch­ing down, the probe — which in­cor­po­rated a ro­botic lan­der and a rover, the Yutu, or Jade Rab­bit — went through six stages of de­cel­er­a­tion, slow­ing from 1,700 me­ters per sec­ond.

The vari­able thrust en­gine Chi­nese sci­en­tists de­vel­oped can gen­er­ate up to 7,500 New­tons of thrust.

The craft hov­ered for about 20 sec­onds at about 100 me­ters above the lu­nar sur­face, us­ing high-pre­ci­sion, fast-re­sponse sen­sors to sur­vey the land­ing area to avoid pos­si­ble ob­sta­cles and se­lect an op­ti­mal lo­ca­tion to set down.

At 3 me­ters above the sur­face, the en­gine shut down and the probe free-fell on the Si­nus Iridum, or Bay of Rain­bows

— a lu­nar area that re­mains un­stud­ied and should en­able smooth com­mu­ni­ca­tion and am­ple sun­shine with its level ter­rain.

The whole process lasted about 12 min­utes with all the so­phis­ti­cated ma­neu­vers be­ing ex­e­cuted ac­cord­ing to pre­set pro­grams with­out hu­man con­trol. Con­trollers called the 12-minute pe­riod the mis­sion’s most stren­u­ous and cru­cial mo­ment.

Four min­utes af­ter the land­ing, Chang’e-3’s so­lar pan­els unfolded, pro­vid­ing en­ergy to the lan­der and rover.

“There is no air on the moon so we can­not use a para­chute like on Earth,” China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman Pei Zhaoyu told an ear­lier news con­fer­ence.

“Mean­while, the grav­i­ta­tional fields and land­forms on the moon are dif­fer­ent from those on Earth. In ad­di­tion, the probe will have to han­dle pos­si­ble im­ped­i­ments or un­sta­ble po­si­tions in the land­ing process.”

Up to 80 per­cent of Chang’e-3’s equip­ment was new to Chi­nese engi­neers be­fore the mis­sion, the lu­nar probe’s chief de­signer Sun Zezhou said.

News about Chang’e- 3’s land­ing on the moon has ig­nited ap­plause and cel­e­bra­tions online, with many In­ter­net users say­ing they are proud of the na­tion’s new space ex­plo­ration achieve­ment. Many ne­ti­zens also said the mis­sion has made the Chi­nese peo­ple’s long-cher­ished dream of reach­ing the moon a re­al­ity.

On Sun­day morn­ing, the space­craft would un­leash the Yutu, a six-wheeled rover with ad­vanced equip­ment and me­chan­i­cal legs that can ex­tract soil sam­ples.

The Chang’e- 3 probe was launched by a Long March-3B rocket at 1:30 am on Dec 2 at the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Center in Sichuan prov­ince. It en­tered a cir­cu­lar lu­nar or­bit on the af­ter­noon of Dec 6 af­ter about 112 hours on an Earth-Moon trans­fer or­bit. Two or­bital cor­rec­tions were made dur­ing its flight to­ward the moon, the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Center said.

Chang’e-3’s suc­cess­ful land­ing adds to a list of 22 soft land­ings on the moon achieved by the United States and the for­mer Soviet Union in the 1960s and ’70s. Chang’e-3 has earned China a seat in one of the world’s most pres­ti­gious clubs and gives new en­ergy to the cause of moon ex­pe­di­tions that have been sus­pended for more than 37 years.

The last land­ing was on Aug 18, 1976. The for­mer Soviet Union’s Luna-24 made a soft land­ing, mark­ing the last lu­nar ad­ven­ture in the decade-long space race be­tween the USSR and the US.

The first man-made ob­ject from Earth to ever reach the moon was the Soviet space­craft Luna-2. It crashed, rather than landed, on the moon on Sept 14, 1959.

The Soviet Union re­al­ized the first lu­nar soft land­ing with the Luna-9 on Feb 3, 1966.

The Chang’e-3 mis­sion is the sec­ond phase of China’s lu­nar pro­gram, which in­cludes or­bit­ing, land­ing and re­turn­ing to Earth. It fol­lows the suc­cess of the Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 mis­sions in 2007 and 2010.

LI XIN / XIN­HUA

A photo of a screen at the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Center shows an artist’s de­pic­tion of China’s lu­nar probe Chang’e-3’s suc­cess­ful land­ing on Satur­day night. It is the first time the coun­try has soft landed a space­craft on an ex­trater­res­trial body. China be­came the third coun­try to land on the moon, af­ter the United States and the for­mer Soviet Union, and the first to do so in about four decades.

WANG JIAN­MIN / XIN­HUA

Sci­en­tists closely fol­low Chang’e-3’s jour­ney to the moon at the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Center.

WANG JIAN­MIN / XIN­HUA

A photo taken of the screen at the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Center shows the moon’s sur­face as trans­mit­ted by Chang’e-3.

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