Beijing has successfully carried out the first lunar touchdown in almost four decades, taking it a step closer to its goal of putting a man on the moon.
The U.S. has some company when it comes to lunar landings.
China has officially successfully landed a rover on the moon, making it just the third nation (behind the U.S. and Russia) to do so. In a statement released through the Chinese state media, officials said the lunar lander had successfully guided itself onto the surface.
“It landed on the Moon,” state media announced in a live broadcast on Saturday night. “Chang’e has landed.”
Television footage showed the lander softly touching down on the lunar surface before deploying a six-wheeled, solar-powered moon rover called “Yutu” or “Jade Rabbit.”
Weighing 140 kilograms, the slow-moving rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations and a powerful ultraviolet camera that will monitor how solar activity affects the various layers — troposphere, stratosphere and ionosphere — that make up the Earth’s atmosphere, China’s information technology ministry said in a statement.
“Chang’e Three’s mission requires mastering many key technologies. The technical difficulties and the risks involved in carrying out the mission will be high,” spokesman Wu Zhijian told a news conference, carried live on state television.
With the landing, though, some are raising questions as to the path forward for the U.S. in space. A number of top U.S. lawmakers have already posited that China may have focused its intelligence agencies on stealing a number of technology-based plans from the U.S. As Congress reported in 1999, China’s “appetite for information and technology is insatiable, and the energy devoted to the task enormous.”
The U.S. Department of Defense, which has yet to release a statement on the landing, has repeatedly expressed concerns with China’s mission to the moon, warning it could usher in a new space race. In a report released earlier this year, the DoD noted that China’s rapid progress will likely demand greater attention from the U.S.
“We see a good deal of continuity in terms of the modernization priorities,” the report notes.
Among the concerns expressed by the DoD include the fact the space-based technologies could ultimately bolster China’s anti-access and area-denial capabilities.
“The issue here is not one particular weapons system,” said David F. Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia. “It’s the integration and overlapping nature of these weapons systems into a regime that can potentially impede or restrict free military operations in the Western Pacific. So that’s something that we monitor and are concerned about.”