China became the third nation to land a rover on the moon this Saturday, ending a dry spell lasting 37 years.
The successful rocket-assisted soft landing of a 100 kilogram rover will make China the third nation, after the U.S. and Russia, to achieve this feat. The rover, dubbed Yoto, took a handful of photos of the Chang’e-3 lander, its companion on the lunar journey, and the moon’s surface.
The last lunar landing occurred in 1976 with Russia’s Luna 24 mission in. Apollo 17 in 1972 was the final U.S. soft lunar landing, although conspiracy theories have abounded about a secret mission in 1973.
The waning enthusiasm for lunar exploration in the U.S. is due to the fact that missions are expensive, and potentially dangerous. According to National Geographic, many scientists don’t see a particularly compelling reason to go, beyond sheer human curiosity.
However, China’s moon landing coincides with an emerging movement in the U.S. in the scientific and tech communities. Google is partnering with a nonprofit called XPRIZE to offer a $20 million reward to the first privately funded team to land a robot on the moon, and travel across its surface. That prize was announced in 2007, and the closing date ends in December of 2015.
“The Google Lunar XPRIZE was delighted to see China’s successful landing of Chang’e 3 and its ‘Yutu’ rover on the Moon,” said Alexandra Hall, a senior director of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, in an interview.
“We look forward to following the explorations and discoveries over the coming weeks, which will no doubt reignite a global interest in the Moon,” she added.
We can expect to see more photos in the next few months, as Yoto collects samples and sends them back to a Chinese control center.