There’s a rabbit on the Moon! A robot rabbit, that is — China’s Yutu rover (named after the mythological jade rabbit pet of the lunar goddess Chang’e) successfully deployed from the Chang’e-3 lander earlier this afternoon, completing the country’s first successful lunar landing and the first soft touchdown on the Moon by any nation since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976. (“Soft” meaning not a crash impact, whether intentional or not.)
The image above is a screenshot from a YouTube video of the rover deployment from China Central Television — watch the full footage below:
(For gifs of this sequence, see Emily Lakdawalla’s article on The Planetary Society blog here.)
Chang’e-3 launched from China aboard a Long March 3-B rocket on Monday, December 2, and established lunar orbit the following Friday. The spacecraft touched down on the lunar surface a week later
within just east of its target Sinus Iridum — the “Bay of Rainbows.”
The 265-lb, six-wheeled Yutu rover will spend the next few months exploring the lunar surface with a variety of science instruments, including a robotic arm, cameras, and a ground-piercing radar system.
It’s exciting to see new images from the Moon’s surface! I’m hoping that China makes Yutu’s images accessible to the world — this is an impressive achievement and a great step forward for lunar exploration.
An interesting side note: in July 1969, as Apollo 11 orbited the Moon, CAPCOM advised Buzz and Neil to “watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit,” referring to the legend of Chang’e and Yutu:
“Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.”
To which Buzz replied, “Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.” Read the transcript here.