Controlled landing and surviving the long lunar night are just two of the mission's challenges.
Sinus Iridum, as seen by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft from lunar orbit. (Photo: JAXA)
For the first time in 37 years, a spacecraft is about to land on the moon.
If all goes well, China’s Chang’e-3 spacecraft will touch down somewhere in the flat lava plain known as Sinus Iridum on Saturday morning. Chinese space officials haven’t announced the time of landing, but Chinese news sources put it at 8:40 a.m., U.S. eastern time. European tracking stations will be on duty to support the descent to the surface starting two hours before that.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State U.
The targeted landing site has not been revealed in advance either, but U.S. scientists have speculated that the spacecraft will come down near a relatively young, five-mile-wide crater called Laplace A (left).
Not since the Soviet Luna 24 in 1976 has a robot touched down softly (as opposed to crashed) on the lunar surface. Chang’e-3 is China’s first attempt to land on a planetary body, but is much more than a simple repeat of something NASA did in the 1960s. The lander will deploy a rover ...