Nuclear Roving: As part of the nation’s continued lunar exploration program, China has announced it will launch a lander and nuclear-powered robotic rover to the lunar surface in 2013. Chang’e 3 — named after the Chinese goddess of the moon — will follow in the footsteps of two lunar orbiters, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, that were launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively.
China’s lunar exploration program is intended to survey and characterize the lunar landscape in the hope of preparing a future manned mission to the surface. As humorously pointed out by China.org.cn, the lander/rover combo will carry out a soft landing using rockets, “as parachutes are not an option because of the lack of air on the moon.”
Chang’e 3 will be the first such soft landing on the moon since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976. Stuff has crashed into the moon since then, including Chang’e 1 on March 1, 2009, and NASA’s LCROSS mission on Oct. 9, 2009. Chang’e 2 is still in operation, having departed lunar orbit to continue an extended mission to the L2 point and is now en route to asteroid 4179 Toutatis. via China.org.cn and @JPMajor