Chinese state television has released a stunning video showing the entire December 14 moon landing of the Chang’e-3 spacecraft and Yutu rover.
Reminiscent of the classic Apollo mission films (see video of the Apollo 14 landing), Chang’e-3’s navigation camera begins by showing views of the inky black skyline. The desolate lunar landscape rolls by in the bottom half of the video frame as the lander decelerates. (See also “China’s Moon Rover Raises Questions Over Long Halt in Lunar Landings.”)
At about the three-minute mark, the lander, then about 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) above the lunar surface, begins a near-vertical descent toward the northeast corner of Mare Iridium (Bay of Rainbows), a flat lava plain in the moon’s northern hemisphere. In the final moments, the retro rockets blow away lunar dust and then, after the rocket engines cut off at an altitude of only 13 feet (4 meters), the Chang’e-3 free-falls until touching down.
A few hours later, the lander lowered a ramp, allowing the six-wheeled Yutu (a name that translates as Jade Rabbit) rover to roll onto the lunar surface. As of Tuesday morning, at least five of the eight scientific experiments aboard the rover have been powered up and checked out, along with its ground-penetrating radar and a suite of cameras.
Meanwhile, as we wait for more high-definition (HD) snapshots from Jade Rabbit, the team running NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) say that they have identified the region where Chang’e-3 landed. They expect the American orbiter to fly over the area around Christmas Day and snap some high-resolution imagery of the landing site.
Stay tuned for more lunar news.