China has joined the U.S. and Russia as one of only three nations to make a controlled soft landing of an unmanned spacecraft on the moon’s surface.
After achieving orbit on Dec. 6, the probe prepared to make its auto-controlled descent, which was closely monitored by staff at the China National Space Administration.
Sending back black-and-white video of the moon’s surface as it made its final descent, the Chang’e-3’s handlers expect to deploy the Yutu moon rover on Sunday.
In an interview with China’s state news agency Xinhua, Sun Huixian, an engineer in charge of the space-probe mission, said, “Compared to the last century’s space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, mankind’s current return to the moon is more based on curiosity and exploration of the unknown universe … China’s lunar program is an important component of mankind’s activities to explore peaceful use of space.”
The Yutu rover’s mission is to collect high-resolution imagery of the moon’s surface, as well as lunar soil samples, according to Xinhua.
The samples will be returned to Earth by the Chang’e 5 probe, which is scheduled to launch some time before 2015, and to return to China before 2020.