Named for Chang’e, the legendary Chinese goddess who is said to live on the moon, China’s Chang’e-3 moon mission involves both a lander vehicle and a small, wheeled rover. China’s landing on 31 December 2013 makes it the third nation to land a wheeled vehicle on the moon, after the Soviet Union and the United States.
The moon rover is named Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) for the legendary rabbit that is a lunar companion for the goddess Chang’e. Yutu carries solar panels for electrical power. A mast on top carries the communications antenna as well as 3D stereo cameras. A robot arm on the front of the rover has spectrometers on it for taking measurements of lunar soil. The rover has six wheels in a rocker-bogie configuration similar to that used by NASA rovers such as the Mars rover Curiosity.
The rover drove off a ramp lowered from the Chang’e-3 lander vehicle. The lander, which will not move after touchdown, carries a plutonium-powered nuclear generator to provide electricity during the two-week lunar night.
In the 1970s, both the Soviet Union and the United States landed wheeled vehicles on the moon. The Soviet Lunokhods were remote-controlled from Earth. Apollo astronauts drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle”“moon car” on the final three flights of the program.