An extraordinary mission by the China National Space Administration helps us to learn a bit of ancient and modern Chinese culture.
Today at 2:26 utc the lunar lander module Chang’e-4 and its six wheel rover Yutu-2 landed on the far side of the moon. They used the Queqiao relay satellite to send us the first ever close range pictures (see below) of the far side of the moon.
The names Chang’e, Yutu and Quegiao have no meaning for people who grew up in ‘western’ cultures but are well known throughout Asia:
In a very distant past, ten suns had risen together into the skies and scorched the earth, thus causing hardship for the people. The archer Yi shot down nine of them, leaving just one sun, and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward. He did not consume it straight away, but hid it at home, as he did not want to gain immortality without his beloved wife Chang’e.
However, while Yi went out hunting, his apprentice Fengmeng broke into his house and tried to force Chang’e to give him the elixir; she refused and drank it herself. Chang’e then flew upwards towards the heavens, choosing the moon as residence. Yi discovered what had transpired and felt sad, so he displayed the fruits and cakes that Chang’e had liked, and gave sacrifices to her.
On mid-autumn day, the full moon night of the eighth lunar month, an open-air altar is set up facing the moon for the worship of Chang’e. New pastries are put on the altar for her to bless. She is said to endow her worshipers with beauty.
There are classic drawings of Chang’e, but she also plays a prominent role in modern anime.
Yutu, the jade rabbit, is the companion of Chang’e. He and his mortar can been seen in the full moon. Yutu is pounding the ingredients of the elixir of life for Chang’e.
The Chinese lunar exploration program uses the names of Chang’e and Yutu for its lunar landing modules and the exploration rovers that comes with them. Chang’e-3 and her Yutu-1 rover landed on the near side of the moon on December 14 2013. It was the first lunar landing since 1976.
Earlier today Chang’e-4 autonomously landed on the far site of the moon. This is the first mission ever that touched down on the half of the moon that can not be seen from earth. (The far side of the moon is not dark, but gets the same amount of sunshine as the near side. The “Dark Site of the Moon” is an allusion to lunacy. Pink Floyd mentions do not fit the event.)
Being on the far side of the moon Chang’e-4 can not directly communicate with her lover on earth. A special relay satellite was stationed in the halo orbit some 75,000 kilometer beyond the moon where it can see the far site of the moon as well as earth. Its name is Queqiao or Magpie bridge:
Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the goddess of heaven, fell in love with the cow herder Niu Lang. They lived happily for many years. Both were sad when Ziu Nu had to return back to heaven. But the goddess of heaven took pity with the sweethearts and allowed them to be reunited once every year.
On this seventh night of the seventh moon, magpies form a bridge with their wings in order that Zhi Nu might cross and meet with her beloved husband. That day (during August) is the Chinese equivalent of Valentines day.
The legend of magpie bridge
After she landed early today Cheng’e-4 took this picture and sent it over the magpie bridge back to her lovers on earth.
The two metal structures at the top of the picture are the ramps the Yutu-2 rover later used to roll down onto the moon’s surface.
One of the six wheels of the Yutu-2 rover.
Yutu-2 on the surface of the moon.
Due to the distance of the communication the delay between a control signal from earth and feedback from the far side of the moon is some 6 seconds. Let’s hope jade rabbit will ‘mind the gap’, i.e. the crater in front of it.
Later on Yutu-2, the jade rabbit, will drill into the surface and collect stones. He will pound them in his mortar and check if they contain the elixir of life.
The elixir of life is of course water. If mankind is ever to colonize the moon it will have to find ways to produce it right there. It is likely that some form of water is available somewhere below the surface of the moon. The geology of the surface will give hints where deeper drilling might be justified.
Congratulations to China and its space engineers. This is an exceptional mission, the first of its kind, and a great success. It is also a interesting lecture in Chinese culture.
This article was originally published by “Moon Of Alabama“