Gallery: China's Jade Rabbit rover sends back its first pictures from the Moon

The 600lb robot succesfully detached from the Chang'e-3 lander this weekend

Chinese astronomers have released the first pictures taken by the country’s Jade Rabbit rover from the surface of the Moon.

The six-wheeled robot successfully detached from the Chang’e-3 lander this weekend, marking the first soft landing on the lunar surface since 1976 and making China the third nation (after the United States and former Soviet Union) to achieve this feat.

A ‘soft landing’ means that the descent was controlled by rockets (the Moon’s lack of atmosphere means using parachutes is impossible), resulting in the safe transfer of on-board equipment. In earlier spacecraft launched by China had orbited the moon in 2007 before intentionally crash landing.

The solar-powered Jade Rabbit, or Yutu, rover will stay on the moon for three months, analysing the topsoil and surveying the Moon’s surface for natural resources. Over the duration of its stay on the lunar surface more pictures and videos are expected to be transmitted back to Earth.

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The six-wheeled Jader Rabbit rover is seent separating from the Chang'e-3 moon lander.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and plans to land a man on the moon sometime between 2025 and 2030. The next steps towards this goal will include another unmanned probe to bring back samples of lunar rock to earth, followed by to survey the landing in preparation for the manned phase of the Chinese space programme. 

The most ambitious part of China’s plan – to establish a permanent base on the moon as an outpost for missions to Mars – were announced following the voicing of similar ambitions by then-US president George Bush.

Since then though the 2008 financial crisis have curtailed America’s plans, with Barack Obama cancelling Nasa’s Constellation programme for a new class of manned spacecraft, and Nasa is instead looking to partnerships with private space companies to fulfil its ambitions.

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