And there was another touch of space history marked during China's moon landing.
"Here is a very interesting angle," said James Rice, a science team member of the Mars Exploration Rover Project, Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. "On this date in 1972, Apollo 17's Gene Cernan took the last steps from the moon's surface as he climbed aboard the Challenger lunar module."
Cernan served as mission commander for Apollo 17, which was NASA's final Apollo moon landing flight by astronauts.
Renewed moon exploration "This is a great day for lunar science and exploration, with the first successful soft landing on the surface of the Moon since the Soviet Union did it in 1976," said Clive Neal, a leading lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences.
"Congratulations to the Chang'e 3 team and China," Neal told SPACE.com.
Neal said that Chang'e 3's touchdown "demonstrates the potential for renewed robotic exploration on the lunar surface that will inevitably lead to new scientific discoveries. I am very excited!"
"From the widest lens, the resurgence of multi-national interest in the moon is an important signal that the moon is not an artifact of history ... but a new world that's important to our future," said Bob Richards, co-founder of Moon Express, the private U.S. entrepreneurial group working on its own lunar lander system.
"With a narrow lens, I hope the U.S. will be inspired to support a return to the moon through the power of commercial space entrepreneurship coupled with smart government partnerships and incentives," Richards told SPACE.com.
Long-term lunar commitment Richards said that China landing on the moon signals a new era of human expansion into space.
"I hope the U.S. and others return to the moon as a frontier of peaceful international exploration and economic development," he said.
"The first two nations to reach the surface of the moon were in a race to do so," Richards said. "China becomes the third nation to land on the moon in the context of a long-term national commitment to lunar exploration and settlement. I am hopeful that humanity's future exploration and development of the Moon will unfold with peace and prosperity for everyone on Earth."
"Back on the surface of the moon ... congratulations to the Chang'e 3 team," said Mark Robinson of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration. Robinson is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Principal Investigator on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter currently orbiting the moon.
"Many around the world have been waiting decades for this moment," Robinson said. "I can't wait to see images of the rover, lander, and landscape! Exciting!"
NASA view on China moon landing Late Friday (Dec. 13), NASA released an official statement on China's Chang'e 3 mission, one geared specifically toward the science benefits of the endeavor.
"China's lunar lander may provide additional science for NASA spacecraft," NASA officials said in the statement. "Scientists using four NASA spacecraft currently studying our lunar neighbor may get an opportunity to gather new data from the expected December 14 landing of the Chang'e 3 lunar rover. U.S. and international researchers view the pending arrival as a new scientific opportunity that could potentially enhance studies and observations of the lunar atmosphere."
China's robotic lander arrives on the heels of NASA's LADEE moon dust spacecraft (the name is short for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer), which launched to the moon in September. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and two other U.S. probes -- called the Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon's Interaction with the Sun (ARTEMIS) -- continue their science missions, the NASA statement explains.
"Although there is no cooperation between the U.S. and China on these missions, U.S. researchers could see potentially interesting science from the landing. The data will be made available to the international science community," NASA officials said in the statement.
Originally published on SPACE.com.
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