China may soon become the world's third country to land an object on the surface of the Moon — and a bunny will be along for the ride. On Tuesday, the country voted to name its new lunar rover Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, out of 190,000 proposed ideas. The choice of name shouldn't be a surprise. On Sunday, December 1st at 17:30 GMT, the superpower will send the rover to the moon on board its Chang'e-3 lunar probe. In Chinese folklore, Chang'e was a goddess who accidentally swallowed an immortality pill and flew to the Moon, with only a rabbit to keep her company.
"Yutu is a symbol of kindness, purity and agility, and is identical to the moon rover in both outlook and connotation. Yutu also reflects China's peaceful use of space," said Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China's lunar program, at a press conference announcing the naming choice.
"Yutu also reflects China's peaceful use of space."
Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 were merely lunar orbiters, and the primary goal of Chang'e-3 is to achieve a soft landing on the moon. Should all go well, Chang'e and Yutu should arrive on the Moon around December 14th, landing in a plain known as the Sea of Rainbows. After that, the six-wheeled rover will spend three months exploring for resources.
China's space program is advancing rapidly, with the country intending to put men on the moon and build a space station of its own before long. However, Chinese officials say they don't intend to provoke another space race, according to a translation at The Planetary Society.
In fact, we have no desire to race with any country. China has its own space program. We are realizing our own plans step by step. Our goal is to use space peacefully. It is also the consensus of the world. Human beings need to make use of space resources to support sustainable development.
Amusingly, the crew of Apollo 11 were asked to look for Chang'e and her rabbit companion as they were about to land on the moon way back in 1969. "We'll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl," replied astronaut Michael Collins at the time.