Play among the stars
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China's moon mission mirrors the rising ambitions of emerging powers.
It could be said that the legend of the Chinese goddess Chang'e — a beautiful woman who swallowed an elixir of immortality and found herself becoming lighter and lighter until she floated up to the moon with only a rabbit for company — culminated in the successful and only marginally less fanciful landing of China's Jade Rabbit moon rover last Saturday. China is only the third country, after the US and Russia, to stage a slow landing of a spacecraft on the moon. Now, like any good tourist, Jade Rabbit will explore the lunar surface and take pictures for the duration of its three-month mission, while also installing two telescopes. There's no word yet on whether it will conduct a search for its namesake.
For much of the last half-century, the moon became a less and less attractive destination for space exploration. But it has regained some of its allure in the past decade. And after NASA instruments on board India's moon orbiter, Chandrayaan-I, discovered water molecules on the lunar surface in 2009, the moon has been distinctly en vogue again.
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