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Chang'e 3 update: 6 instruments active, new fan-produced landing video

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

17-12-2013 22:51 CST

Topics: Space Policy, mission status, the Moon, Chang'E program

Today there was a lengthy press briefing by several members of the Chang'e 3 science team. A complete transcript was posted in Chinese here. I have run it through two machine translators (Google and a Chinese one, and found it to be quite informative, not just about the mission but also about attitudes about Chinese space exploration and foreign cooperation. It was useful background for my participation in an hour-long panel discussion on China Radio International's "Today" program.

But before I get to that, I want to share this new fan-produced animation of the landing, putting the site into context, with music.

Awesome, huh?

In this blog post I'm doing my best to translate the content of the press briefing. You can try to follow along yourself with this document, in which I compare the original Mandarin text with the two machine translations. Times in brackets correspond to times listed in that document.

Participants included:

  • The host, Zhang Tengyue;
  • Wu Weiren, chief designer of the lunar exploration program;
  • Liu Jianzhong, deputy chief designer of the launch vehicle;
  • Zheng He, deputy chief designer of the lander; and
  • Su Yan, deputy chief designer of the ground segment (who seemed to be speaking for the science team).

Wu Weiren remarked that everything went so much more smoothly than they had expected. [14:18]

Zhang Tengyue talked about the confusion felt by himself and Ouyang Ziyuan on the live broadcast, when they were expecting to see pictures of the lander from the rover, but they did not. I smiled when I read this because I had likewise been confused about there being no pictures of the lander on the CCTV live broadcast; I wound up locating a photo of the lander on a forum after it had been shared on the Chinese-language broadcast. It was funny to know that he and Ouyang had been as confused as I. Zhang talked about exchanging handwritten notes with Ouyang during the broadcast to decide whether they should ask about the photo of the lander? Ouyang advised him not to. [14:23]

Wu explained that the reason they showed photos of the rover but not the lander on the English-language broadcast was because they were considering the historical importance of the photos, and were particularly concerned about showing the images of the Chinese national flag on the Moon. Since the rover was to the north of the lander and both were in the northern hemisphere, the Sun was to the south, so the rover (and hence the flag) were well illuminated by the Sun as seen from the lander, but badly lit as seen from the rover. So they chose, during the live broadcast, to transmit photos of the rover with its flag, since they were better lit. They showed one photo that had been transmitted prior to the live broadcast, and then a second that had been transmitted during the broadcast. [14:25] I hadn't figured out until this morning that the English-language broadcast did, in fact, show two different photos of the rover from the lander, with a significant amount of shadow motion between them; since shadows move so slowly on the Moon, the first image must have been taken quite a while before the second one.

Jade Rabbit on the Moon


Jade Rabbit on the Moon
Aired live on state television, the Chang'e 3 lander took a photo of the recently-deployed Yutu rover, bearing the bright red Chinese national flag, on December 15, 2013.

Zheng He reported on the current status of the lander. As best as I can do with the translation: "Change 3 is working very well on the Moon. All conditions very good, nominal. It has already begun to do extreme ultraviolet optical imaging work."

The host asked about the surprising proximity of a crater to the lander. Zheng responds (again, my best translation): "After we landed and saw the camera image [of the crater], we felt very lucky, but also very successful....This picture shows us right in front of a pit, with stone blocks right in front of the lander. But underneath the lander's feet the ground is very flat. This shows that the autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance that we designed has succeeded, and we landed on a safe area. The crater is ten meters away from the lander; we can navigate around it, our plans are not affected by it." [14:39]

Zheng talked about wanting to impress on people that, as easy as they made it seem, the landing was very difficult, for two reasons. The first: "It's an irreversible process. In the past, we have launched spacecraft into orbit around Earth. Celestial laws govern its path; it won't crash if there is a small problem. Once it goes over a ground station, we can control and operate it." She says that, by contrast, Chang'e 3 had two "irreversible" moments, lunar orbit insertion and landing, where they had only one chance to get it right; this was a first for a Chinese mission. [14:42]

The second thing that made the Chang'e landing difficult, she said, was the fact that they could not be certain what they would find in the landing site. Past lunar orbiters could assume the Moon a sphere and navigate accordingly. (This isn't quite true; she's oversimplifying.) But for the landing, "the lunar surface is undulating, and this has a great impact on the control of our landing process. And the final landing site could be soft soil or it could be on hard rock; this has a great impact on our landing cushion. We also wonder what kind of dust the landing will produce." She talks about how they had to design the lander and its software to "overcome the uncontrollability of these uncertainties." [14:47] I can imagine the JPL engineers who designed Curiosity's landing system nodding in agreement with all of this! Predicting all the uncertain aspects of a landing, and making your lander smart enough to diagnose and deal with all the possible different situations it may encounter, is what makes it so difficult. She goes on to talk at length about the problem of lunar dust and the difficulties that Lunokhod 2 faced because of it.

Next Su Yan talked about the scientific work being undertaken by Chang'e 3. They mostly can't operate during lunar night because of the intensely cold temperatures, so they perform scientific observations during the lunar day. Right now, it's a full Moon, which means that from the point of view of the surface of the Moon, Earth is dark; this is the best time for Chang'e 3 to conduct astronomical observations. She talked about testing the Yutu ground-penetrating radar on glaciers in the Qilian mountains, and clearly seeing the glacier and rock layering there; she looks forward to lunar data. [14:55]

Su talked about receiving data on Earth from both lander and rover, about monitoring the state of the payload, and of converting the raw data received from the spacecraft to "data products released to the whole of China and even the whole world of scientists to use." [14:57]

Su said that six of the eight instruments are now operating. This list I'll actually copy from an English-language article about the briefing: "Except for the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and the visible and near-infrared imaging spectrometer, the instruments have all been activated and are undergoing tests and adjustments."

There was some discussion of the value of the scientific experiments being conducted by Chang'e 3, and then the briefing was opened to questions from the media. The first question was of the inevitable "how will this benefit Earth" variety. I found it interesting that Wu Weiren's lengthy response talked about the return on investment achieved through the Apollo missions, stating that for each American dollar invested into the Apollo program, 7 to 15 dollars were returned, by different estimates. Wu also talked about how, as a fraction of its GDP, Chinese investment in space is very small; and also pointed out that, to date, China's planetary exploration efforts have seen 100% success. Then they discussed how technologies and materials developed for the Chang'e program will eventually find civilian applications. [15:09]

Then, a very interesting statement from the moderator. He brought up the petition initiated by a 6-year-old boy to "Increase NASA funding. So we can discover new worlds, protect us from danger and to make dreams come true." The petition has been all over science and technology news this week, but I was still surprised to hear it brought up in this Chinese forum. He talked about China suddenly realizing this month that the South China Sea was important to China after 70 years of ignoring it, and remarked that it would be short-sighted of China not to go to the Moon, to let others go there instead. [15:11]

A reporter asked about Mars exploration. Again, a very interesting response, from Wu Weiren. He talked about how India had sent an orbiter to the Moon, an orbiter that failed to achieve its design lifetime of two years in orbit. They have launched a spacecraft to Mars, he said, but if I understand the translations correctly he seemed to be expressing reservations that they would be able to survive the long trip, based upon their past performance: "the future is uncertain." By contrast, he said, China's approach is "comprehensive," systematic, methodical, "every step laying a solid foundation for the next step." India, in contrast, is "leaping, mainly wanting to show strength." Perhaps, he implies, they are overreaching. "We are not competing with them, although they may want to compete with us; the mentality is not the same." I must admit, if I were Indian, I'd be a little affronted by these words! But the points he makes are fair. Wu goes on to say that China already established the technological capability to explore Mars with the success of Chang'e 1 and 2; it would be "easy." It's simply not their goal at present. A strong statement. [15:17]

Another reporter asked about Chang'e 5 and the plans to launch it from a new launch facility. Liu Jianzhong spoke about how Chang'e 5 will require the new Long March V rocket and will need to be launched from a new site in Wenchang, Hainan. The advantage of the new site is that it is at a lower latitude, 19 degrees as opposed to 28.5 for Xichang, which launches a spacecraft with more energy; also, Wenchang will be a coastal launch facility with launches over the ocean, avoiding the problem of rocket parts falling on populated areas. Finally, Long March V will be a five-meter-diameter rocket, and China's inland railways can only accommodate payloads 3.5 meters wide. [15:22]

The same reporter inquired about foreign cooperation and data sharing. Su Yan said that there are cooperative agreements in place with ESA, and that the Chang'e 1 and 2 data have already been made available to them. "NASA cooperation with us is more difficult," NASA is not permitted to host information about Chinese missions on their websites, and it is not possible to cooperate officially. But, she said, she works for the National Astronomical Observatory, which has very large cooperation with foreign countries. [15:25]

Wu Weiren said the project had set up a special committee on applications of the data, with the goal of sharing the data. He spoke of sharing data "in accordance with the principles of classification: level one, level two, level three, level four" -- if I am not mistaken, this is talking about sharing data products in accordance with the schemes originally laid out by NASA's Planetary Data System and adopted by ESA's Planetary Science Archive. So I was very happy to read that. "In addition, we and Europe also have some cooperation," and I think he was discussing the support of the Chang'e 3 mission by Europe's deep-space communications network. [15:26]

Then Wu went on to talk about NASA's specific interests in Chang'e data sharing. It's clear that NASA expressed interest in information about the Chang'e 3 lander's fuel expenditure during landing, which has direct application to the LADEE mission, as I've discussed before. NASA also asked for Chang'e 3 tracking data, so that the LADEE mission would know where and when Chang'e 3 was disturbing the lunar atmosphere. "But we also asked [NASA] to provide data [in return], and [NASA] did not agree. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution that stated that NASA cannot cooperate with China for fear we will steal their technology." If I understand correctly, I think he went on to say that in a way the American refusal to share information with China has helped China's space program, forcing China to develop their own technology, their own strength. [15:28]

I will note here that Representative Frank Wolf, the author of the policy that prevents NASA from cooperating with the Chinese space agency, announced today that he will not be seeking reelection. Perhaps this policy will be reexamined soon, and the LADEE team will be able to exchange information with the Chang'e 3 team that will enable better scientific results from both missions.

A reporter asked: what about cooperation with other nations? Wu Weiren responded that the European Space Agency is "increasingly interested in cooperation with China," because of the rapid development of Chinese capability and the long planning horizon for European missions. He said that this shows that other space powers now recognize China as being at their level. [15:29]

A reporter mentioned China's recent launch failure, their first since 2011, and asked about the public's tolerance for failure in the space program. Wu said that "aerospace is a high-risk business; failure is inevitable." He said they do the best they can to plan for problems; on Chang'e 3 they had planned for 200 different fault scenarios, but wound up needing to use none of them. "If we do fail, we will feel a lot of pressure, but I believe that people across the country can understand." [15:35]

Zhang He talked about preventing failure through the application of new technologies unavailable to Soviet or Apollo lunar landers, including the laser ranging to determine a flat place to land, and the highly accurate, variable-thrust landing engine. [15:38] (Both translation services insist upon translating the Mandarin term for "newton," the unit of thrust, as "bovine" or "cattle," which makes discussion of the "7500 bovine variable thrust engine" amusing.)

Wu Weiren also talked about the rover having autonomous navigation capability. The Soviet Lunokhods required television monitors and continuous round-the-clock shifts of drivers to manually tele-operate them. Wu said that Yutu can be operated in this mode, but that there is also a "completely independent operation mode" in which it can be navigated to waypoints. It can avoid obstacles using both long- and near-distance stereo vision through navigational cameras on the mast and hazard avoidance cameras on the body, just like NASA's Mars rovers. "If a stone is too big, the rover will automatically turn, then go around it." [15:41]

A reporter asked about the video of the landing, in which the lander pauses, slides to the side, then descends. Zhang He responded that the lander was able to perform up to three assessments of landing site suitability with laser ranging, but that the computer wound up needing only one assessment to locate a safe spot to land. [15:42]

There was some more discussion of Chang'e 5 and Chang'e 4, and a question about when we'd see Chang'e 3 science results, and counsel of patience. I'm sure there's a lot more in this discussion that I missed, but it's getting late and my mind is beginning to blur in the attempt to read and understand the machine translations. I welcome you to download my comparison document and try interpreting some of it for yourself! All in all, a wide-ranging and surprisingly frank discussion.

All well and good, but I still want to see more pictures! I have seen no new ones yet. Yutu is sleeping right now, because it cannot operate during the heat of lunar noon; it's supposed to start working again on December 23. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt an image on December 24.

Thanks, as ever, to the forum community for the links to Chinese-language updates!

See other posts from December 2013


Or read more blog entries about: Space Policy, mission status, the Moon, Chang'E program


Pradeep Mohandas: 12/17/2013 11:14 CST

China deserves congratulation in the measured way they've been doing lunar exploration. Taking it step by step. I also hope that India co-operates with China in this regard prior to the Chandrayaan-2 mission slated now for 2017. India's choice of doing the Mars mission now has been limited by the availability of the launch vehicle. It's debatable on whether we should have done the Mars mission now but in hindsight, I believe valuable lessons have been learnt which India can share with China when they plan their standalone Mars mission.

Anonymous: 12/18/2013 01:39 CST

At 15:52, Wu talked about the fact that the Yutu rover has six wheels. The ones facing sun have temperature above 100 celsius degree versus the ones on the other side at dark are only at minus 10 degree. It's interesting how they get temperature data on wheels.

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/18/2013 01:43 CST

A very exhaustive (and exhausting?) review! The geometry analysis of the imaging of rover and lander is very interesting. By the way, and I know it is out of place, the lunar albedo is about 0.12(about same as that of coal?). Still the moon shines so bright in the night sky. If the moon were to be covered by fine talc some millimetres thick it would blaze in the sky (use of a talc bomb?). This second comment about the moon was a result of the featured earth moon image sequence by Bruce Murray Image Gallery. In the sequence the moon appears so much darker than the earth that it seems surprising that it is visible at all in the composite images. How do they control the extreme contrast in the lunar imaging? Is selective computer enhancement (or suppression) the only answer.

Anonymous: 12/18/2013 01:57 CST

Hi Emily, Could elaboorate on this "But the points he makes are fair"? Whats not systamatic about India's planatery exploration?

Antariksh: 12/18/2013 01:57 CST

Hi Emily, Could elaboorate on this "But the points he makes are fair"? Whats not systamatic about India's planatery exploration?

wahaha: 12/18/2013 06:06 CST

As a fan from China, I'm so amazed by this blog post.The machine translations of the press briefing were very bad.But Emily was able to correct most of the errors based her knowledge and common sense. There are only some minor discrepancies,e.g,it should be "in 1970s" not 70 years ago that China was not aware of the importance of the South China Sea. Thanks for sharing the video! This blog is my first place to check out whether there is any new images or video from Chang'e!

^-^: 12/18/2013 10:50 CST

A lovely blog, Emily! Regrading Wu's comment on [15:17], you wrote that " Wu goes on to say that China already established the technological capability to explore Mars with the success of Chang'e 1 and 2; it would be "easy." It's simply not their goal at present. A strong statement. [15:17]" Bearing in mind that it is highly unlikely that any Chinese scientist would talk in such a boastful manner in public like their Indian counterparts usually do, by calling a Mars mission "easy", I went to the origical Chinese version. I think it is a misunderstanding due to your translation machine, Emily. I tried to translate the entire paragragh more precisely as follows: (Wu): "Compared to them (India), I think that Chang’e 3 has already landed, (therefore) let alone talking about (our capability to) explore Mars now, actually after we successfully launched Chang’ E 1 and 2 we've already had capabilities to explore Mars at a time – no question about that….. every 2 years Mars comes across Earth when it is the closest to us – it is the best launching window. The details of the window depend on the size of the rocket. With a bigger rocket we can choose to shoot either longer or shorter distance, so there would be 1 window per month or 1 window per 2-month available. We are now researching Long March V rocket. The current Long Match III has max thrust of 600 tons, while max thrust of our Chang’E Rocket Series is close to 1,100 tons, (therefore) it’s quite easy for us to manufacture a Mars probe now (because) the launch window is already sufficiently wide, no question about it. "

Anirban: 12/18/2013 11:45 CST

I don't know what adjectives Mr. Wu Weiren used in his original comments on Indian space missions, and how good the machine translators are at translating the right contextual meaning of a piece of text, but going by what Emily put up as the translated copy on here, it seems Mr.Wu Weiren's views on Indian Space Programs reeks of extreme arrogance, disrespect, and, disgracefulness. "...based upon their past performance.." What does he mean ? The way it talks, it sounds like India has had like ten interplanetary missions in a row and each one of them was a failure. Yes, Chandrayaan-I had a design deficiency in that the thermal insulation was not enough, heat radiated from the lunar surface was beyond what ISRO expected. Due lessons have been learnt from it and that's about it. Mistakes happen with space missions! Just because one went wrong does not mean ISRO has a poor record or that its Mars mission is destined to fail. Its a pity people would even think that way. Past falied missions to Mars o other space agencies have been studied in details and a better evolved design put in place for the Mars Orbiter Mission, hopefully it will successfully complete all its mission objectives. NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter failed due to the wrong units used in calculations, does that make the folks at NASA dumb ? Not at all! ... mistakes can happen. "By contrast, he said, China's approach is "comprehensive," systematic, methodical, "every step laying a solid foundation for the next step." India, in contrast, is "leaping, mainly wanting to show strength." - Has the man gone nuts ? Leaping to show strength! Anyone even remotely associated with space programs would know the precision they demand, "leaping around to show strength" is not the way any space agency or space mission works. Really, what is India "leaping around" about ? ISRO is as "comprehensive, systematic, methodical" as any other space organization.

Anirban: 12/18/2013 11:53 CST

I don't know what is it with the Chinese about always insisting that India is in a "race" with China, and always an attitude of "Oh yeah right we are much better than them Indians ...". On being asked, ISRO has said time and again that India is in no "space race" as such with China. We only look at our own missions. India has never talked bad about Chinese space missions and programs, in-fact we never make any comments at all about them, I don't know what bothers them so much about our space programs.

^-^: 12/18/2013 12:11 CST

@ Antariksh and Anirban: What's the big deal of what Mr Wu said? Perhaps it is because that Indians, either average Joes or financial/IT analysts or scientists from scientific bodies such as ISRO, are usually quite emotional and boastful? This is often accompanied by some degree of irrationality in their thought process............. In research, manufacturing, servicing, aeconomy, even sports such as Common Wealth Games, or just daily small things everywhere you look, Indians/India tend to think and behave rather differently, that is to say usually prefer to run before having a solid foundation to walk or even crawl, which of course, at least in my eyes, is neither logical nor comprehensive by common sense, let alone scientific rigour.......... I guess what Mr Wu, and in fact many Chinese people and other people as well, noticed long ago and referred to was this point. E.g. It would be a national shocker or outrage in China as a sign of extreme imprudence if Chinese scientists did choose exploring Mars instead of nearer and hence easier Moon as the logically comprehensive 1st step, whereas for India and Indians they think somehow it’s completely natural and justifiable......... As a result, despite some “110% guaranteed” slogans that you often hear in all walks of dailylife, Indians/India unfortunately tend to claim gold while deliver dirt in many things they pursue, examples are all over the places........... Chinese people and China, however, are almost the mirror image of Indians and India. Chinese people in general, particularly scientists, scholars etc intellectuals, are by and large quite conservative, humble, and keep low key in public. This is due to deep-rooted Confucius culture and also perhaps genes as a people. Rarely can you encounter a very boastful Chinese “a-la-Indian”, but when you do, usually either what he says is already proven or he is just a badly-educated young teen. Anyway, I wish India very best luck in its Mars mission!

Gene: 12/18/2013 12:42 CST

Emily, your efforts are (as always) truly appreciated! Nationalism aside, I was confused by the conclusion that despite Mars orbit being easier to achieve than lunar landing, Mars orbit is somehow a bigger "leap"? There must be some subtlety I'm missing.

BrianB: 12/18/2013 02:58 CST

Something has happened to the link for the video, it sits there for quite some time, then returns a yellow error triangle and some characters I can't read. Bummer.

Shravan: 12/18/2013 03:51 CST

'India is over reaching and leaping..?' Perhaps the Chinese is not happy that India proposed Manned Lunar Mission long before Chinese thinks they can... and the pace Indian scientist able to organise succesful space missions... except the dragging GSLV project! India's mission also comprehensive, systematic, methodical... first we tried with orbiter.. next we are sending Rover.. then we tries Man to space mission... then only we are going to Manned Lunar Mission..! I dunt see any 'over reaching' here.. do you Emily? You guys means it with India's capability of finance or technology or anything else..?

Li: 12/18/2013 08:14 CST

At risk starting a flaming war here, my humble 2 cents, instead of sending a low payload orbiter to Mars, 1. Develop big rockets GSLV to 100T to LEO (fully operational ICBM) 2. Fully successful Chandrayaan-2 Moon orbit mission 3. Manned space station 4. Moon lander - Rover 5. Lunar sample Collection & return to earth 6. Manned lunar mission 7. deep space communication & mars mission, Mr Wu talks about leaping probably means ISRO skips and directly goes to step 7... Plus there's culture thing, Chinese are brought not to talk about it until the mission successful. Confucius value doers not talkers. However some India scientists like to public boast things even before it is started. I personally wish India very best luck and success in its Mars mission. All space exploration is good for humans, in this sense, space race is good...

Ramesh Jain: 12/18/2013 10:05 CST

Well, those statements by Mr. Wu - if that's what he actually meant - are downright silly and uncalled for. Sounds like "my way or the highway" attitude. Each country and its space agency has its own respective priorities. We space enthusiasts like to see space agencies and scientists all over cooperate for collective good.

Li: 12/18/2013 10:30 CST

if you can speak/read Chinese, Mr. wu is in no way compare or downplay India's efforts, he is humble and the tone is polite. simply when asked the Mars question, he is stating we have capability, but there is no funding and it's not his current goal

SpaceEnthusiast: 12/19/2013 04:09 CST

Maybe due to translation differences that cause our Indian friends thinking that China look down on them. But let me try my translation here: 我们国家和印度比较起来可能还有差别, Our country and India, if you want to compare, probably has differences 我们国家对卫星、月球探测、火星探测都比较成体系,比较综合考虑, Our country toward satellite, moon probe, mars probe more into the system, put a lot of consideration 每一步都为下一步打基础,我们都比较连贯, Every step is for the next step laying the foundation, we are more consistent, 我们探月是绕、落、回, Our moon program is (consisting of) orbiting, landing and return. 无人探测成功之后有人探测可以开始,每一步打坚实的基础。 If unmanned program is successful then we can begin the manned program, every step toward a solid foundation. 印度喜欢跳跃式的,主要是想展示一下实力, India likes to jump, only want to show strength, 我们没有和他们竞争,但他可能想和我们竞争,心态是不一样的。  we don't have competition with them, but maybe they want to compete with us, different state of mind. ---------- As you can see, Wu says that India has strength but that does not how China want to do it. And what's wrong with showing strength? Isn't that actually one of the purposes of India MOM, a technology demonstrator? Even ISRO and many Indian media sites state that MOM is a technology demonstrator, ISRO's show of strength.

^-^: 12/19/2013 10:19 CST

" 印度喜欢跳跃式的,主要是想展示一下实力India likes to jump, only want to show strength" …...... I am afraid that this sentence of the translation may not be exact and could cause more confusions among Indians. It ought to be "India likes Jump Style (in progression), the main purpose (of that) is to showcase (its)capability........... Note that “capability” , a quite neutral word, doesn't equal to “strength” per se, e.g. Every kid has a capability to learn// Mary’s strength is Music…... So I see nothing discriminative with Mr Wu's neutral remark in any colour and shape.

^-^: 12/19/2013 10:27 CST

ISRO’s showcase of its capabilities seems misplaced though, because if NASA & ESA are closed tomorrow for a holiday, ISRO will have no clue on where its probe is, due to its lack of any significant deep space tracking capabilities, let lone strength – the very essence of any Mars mission. The project showcases an informal JV of NASA & ESA teams on deep space tracking & control, with ISRO as the front man. To be precise it’s actually a Russia-NASA-ESA project, becoz all key tech of the Mars probe rocket are purchased from Russia using the bulk of $60m budget: laser-gyro guidance system, advanced fuel, high temp & super hard alloys, anti-high temp materials for outer shell... ISRO/India gets and tests much needed int’lly banned ICBM-related tech from Russia in return in name of this civilian project - the true purpose of the Mars mission, national pride aside. This Jump Style is far from unique as it's imbedded in almost every facet of india's industries & Indian life. Nature or Nurture?

Richard Haddon: 12/19/2013 11:06 CST

Congratulations to China on her historic flawless automated landing and deployment of a remote vehicle on Luna. The Sinus Iridum at sunrise is the single most inspiring spectacle on the entire surface of Luna as seen from Terra, and as an astronomer I am delighted by the choice of landing site and fascinated to know if the peaks of the Montes Jura are visible from it? As for the obvious friendly rivalry between respective admirers of the Indian Space Research Organization and the Chinese National Space Agency: there are many space missions to undertake and limitless national prestige to be won. But nowadays the main thrust of each national programme ultimately has to be international co-operation on Near-Earth-Object deflection strategies. Lunar surface and Mars orbital missions alike gain invaluable expertise in the pursuit of such a programme, and bode well for the future survival of life here on Terra for all nations. That is precisely why such missions generate so much excitement all over the world, and national pride for the nations like China and India who are able to successfully undertake them.

Richard Haddon: 12/19/2013 11:09 CST

Congratulations to China on her historic flawless automated landing and deployment of a remote vehicle on Luna. The Sinus Iridum at sunrise is the single most inspiring spectacle on the entire surface of Luna as seen from Terra, and as an astronomer I am delighted by the choice of landing site and fascinated to know if the peaks of the Montes Jura are visible from it? As for the obvious friendly rivalry between respective admirers of the Indian Space Research Organization and the Chinese National Space Agency: there are many space missions to undertake and limitless national prestige to be won. But nowadays the main thrust of each national programme ultimately has to be international co-operation on Near-Earth-Object deflection strategies. Lunar surface and Mars orbital missions alike gain invaluable expertise in the pursuit of such a programme, and bode well for the future survival of life here on Terra for all nations. That is precisely why such missions generate so much excitement all over the world, and national pride for the nations like China and India who are able to successfully undertake them.

Emily Lakdawalla: 12/19/2013 10:33 CST

Hoo boy, this one has gotten commenters excited! I completely agree with what Pradeep says in the first comment. The most important thing is: every nation benefits when more nations choose to explore space; and diverse approaches are good. China's approach is clearly more systematic and methodical than any other nation, including the U.S. and ESA. When it comes to robotic exploration they are working on one goal and one goal only, and that is lunar sample return. Each mission, from Chang'e 1 to 3, has led toward that goal in a step-by-step manner. Chang'e 4 will likely continue that, and hopefully Chang'e 5 will achieve it. This is not superior or inferior to any other nation, it's just a different approach. India's approach is clearly different, using less money and taking more risk to spring farther. That's one thing that has made this Mars mission so exciting, from the perspective of an outsider. If it fails, everyone will say "of course it failed, they reached too far beyond their past experience." If it succeeds, it will be a terrific achievement, one for the history books. So far, it's been great. I think that it's true that any "space race" mostly exists in the mind of the media (though not just the Western media -- I saw plenty of discussion of a space race in Indian media as well. I haven't read enough Chinese news sites to know whether it exists there, too). There is nothing like the Cold War space race going on. China, India, and even NASA all have different goals -- they are not competing to be the only one to achieve some goal. So in that sense there is no space race. And it's *good* that everybody is trying to do something different. That means Earth does more things. Still, it would be a lie to say that each nation does not have an eye on the other. There is competition here -- not to win a prize, but to demonstrate technological prowess. It's the kind of competition that makes us all better.

jumpjack: 12/20/2013 04:11 CST

[img][/img] [img][/img] I created a Google Earth simulation of the moon landing showing size and scale of visible surface features: Blog with screenshots: Video:

tychocrater: 12/20/2013 09:39 CST

Emily - Your coverage of everything planetary, but especially Chang'e 3, is excellent! This translation contains a wealth of information I've seen nowhere else. I wonder if there is a Pulitzer Prize for near real time science reporting! - you deserve it! Chuck Wood

FlyMeToTheMoon: 12/20/2013 10:47 CST

Video with 360 panorama of the landing site

FlyMeToTheMoon: 12/20/2013 10:55 CST

Yutu is awake from its nap

FlyMeToTheMoon: 12/20/2013 11:07 CST

How Yutu views Earth

Fred Thurber: 12/22/2013 09:03 CST

It is interesting to note that the Jade Rabbit appears to use a rocker bogie which, I think, was first developed by JPL for the Sojourner rover and later used for MER and MSL. What other technologies were borrowed from JPL? The rocker bogie and small wheels on the Jade Rabbit seem like an exact copy from JPL, but the question still remains whether this is the best design. Spirit was trapped and Opportunity was almost trapped a couple of times because of this design. People who drive over soft sand know that the best design is large, soft, smooth tires, not tiny, hard, wheels with holes. Of course there are always tradeoffs and JPL usually makes the best choice when all the factors are taken into account.

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