China's Yutu Rover Begins Trek Across Moon's Surface

China's Yutu Rover Begins Trek Across Moon's Surface

China’s Yutu Moon rover is beginning its trek across the lunar surface as shown in a photograph tweeted by China’s official Xinhua news agency yesterday.  The rover was deployed from China’s Chang’e-3 lander on December 15, the day after the duo settled onto the lunar surface. .

On December 22, Yutu and Chang’e-3 took pictures of each other for the last time.  Xinhua tweeted (@XHNews) a compelling photo of Yutu as it moved away from Chang’e-3.   The photo that Xinhua tweeted shows the rover on the surface looking out towards the vastness and blackness of space. 

Source:  Tweet from Xinhua News @XHNews, Dec. 22, 2013 

Oddly, the link in the tweet is to a Xinhua story that, while dated December 22, shows an earlier photo of Yutu taken on December 15; that photo prominently displays China’s flag.   Presumably the flag is on one side of the rover and the photo above is of the other side as it moves away from Chang’e-3.

Source:, with the caption : “Screen shows the photo of Yutu moon rover taken by the camera on the Chang’e-3 moon lander during the manual-photograph process, at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 15, 2013.  The moon rover and the moon lander took photos of each other Sunday night, marking the complete success of the Chang’e-3 lunar probe mission.”

A search of the English-language websites for Xinhua, CCTV and China Daily failed to turn up the tweeted photograph.  Daniel Fischer (@cosmos4u) pointed us to this website that has the tweeted photo and indeed the logo at the bottom of that photo states is the source.  It is a Chinese language website, so we appreciate the help. 

It seems odd that China is tweeting the December 22 photo presumably to draw global attention to its achievement, but doesn’t post it on its English-language websites.  Also, the December 22 Xinhua story emphasizes that Yutu took a photo of Chang’e-3 showing the Chinese flag on the lander, the first time this was possible because in earlier photo shoots the flag was not visible from Yutu’s camera.  That photo of Chang’e-3 also is not posted on China’s English-language news websites.

Chang’e-3 and Yutu landed on the Moon on December 14, 2013.  They are China’s first lunar lander/rover and the first spacecraft to make a survivable landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976.    

Yutu is beginning its trek after what the Chinese media call a “nap” from December 16 – December 21 when it turned off its subsystems during a period of high temperatures on the lunar surface.  The rover is expected to function for about three months; the Chang’e-3 lander for one year.

China says this mission completes its second phase of lunar exploration and the next phase will involve sample return spacecraft, Chang’e-5 and Chang’e-6.  Xinhua’s December 22 story states that Chang’e-5 will launch in 2017.  No mention is made of Chang’e-4, which earlier was described as a backup to Chang’e-3 that now will be used to test technologies for the sample return missions.

Chang’e is China’s mythological goddess of the Moon.  Yutu is her pet jade rabbit.

China’s lunar efforts come decades after the Soviet Union and United States initiated lunar exploration with robotic probes and, for the United States, astronauts. The United States returned 380 kilograms of lunar material during the six Apollo lunar landings between 1969 and 1972.  The last three Apollo crews (Apollo 15, 16 and 17) had “moon buggies” — rovers in which they traveled over the lunar surface to explore areas further from their landers than possible on foot.   The Soviet Union returned 330 grams of lunar soil to Earth using three robotic probes (Luna  16, 20 and 24) and landed two robotic rovers (Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2) during the early 1970s.  The United States, Europe, Japan and India have sent spacecraft to orbit and/or impact the Moon since then, but no landers.

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