China has launched its first lunar rover to explore the surface of the moon, hoping—among other objectives—to discover significant deposits of rare earth minerals said to lie under the celestial body’s crust.
With the Jade Rabbit take-off, the Asian country could become the third nation to achieve a soft landing on the moon, after the United States and Russia. The last soft landing on the moon was the unmanned Soviet Luna 24 rover, which collected soil samples in 1976.
“We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation,” said Zhang Zhenshong, director of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, according to the Xinhua state news agency.
The rover’s name—chosen in an online poll of 3.4 million voters—comes from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as the pet of the lunar goddess Chang’e.
Interviewed by BBC News, Ouyang Ziyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said China is after the potential environment and natural resources the moon holds, as the spacecraft is equipped with ground-penetrating radar to measure the lunar soil and crust.
“The moon is full of resources—mainly rare earth elements, titanium and uranium, which the earth is really short of, and these resources can be used without limitation,” he was quoted as saying.
If this mission is successful, China will send another to gather lunar samples by 2020.
Reprinted by permission of MINING.com