back to article It's the weekend. We're out of puns for now. Just have a gander at China's Moon lander and robo-sidekick snaps, videos

China's Chang’e lunar lander has beamed back its first pictures of the far side of the Moon. Officials behind Beijing's Lunar and Deep Space Exploration Programme (CLEP) this week released a panoramic shot of the Von Kármán crater, taken by the lander, revealing a barren, pockmarked landscape littered with a few rocks here and …

  1. Joe W


    They do rock that rock. Exciting to see boundaries pushed back. Now... NASA, ESA, get your s**t together![1]

    (I know. No money. Makes me really sad, so: EU and USA, get your act together and get some exciting space stuff done! Really bad we have no spacecraft to reach Hubble any more, among other things...)

    [1] Yes, landing on a comet was really cool! More of that!

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    El Reg grammar bonus

    For possibly the only correct use of 'decimate' I've seen in the press in years...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: El Reg grammar bonus

      Though technically wasn't decimation a Roman military group punishment where the group to be punsihed were lined up and every tenth person was executed

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: El Reg grammar bonus

        Don't give Musk ideas

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: El Reg grammar bonus

        And more importantly they were executed by the group itself!

    2. albaleo

      Re: El Reg grammar bonus

      You mean they're tithing their staff of 10 percent of their income?

  3. Wellyboot Silver badge

    At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

    It's a small comfort I know, fingers crossed they find somewhere quickly.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

      Think about this.

      A space launch program should be long term. That means proper plans for career development and a fit for purpose HR system. Staff needs should fit into long term planning which means headcount changes should be gradual and managed.

      A 10% cut suddenly announced doesn't fill me with confidence that the management knows what it's doing.

      1. A.P. Veening

        Re: At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

        The big question is whether management also gets decimated. Usually the exercise can be repeated twice on management without any ill effects, but somehow they never even manage once.

      2. rg287

        Re: At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

        A 10% cut suddenly announced doesn't fill me with confidence that the management knows what it's doing.

        Whilst it would indeed be better for staffing levels to be managed by natural means (not replacing organic departures/retirees), please show me a significantly sized business that has never made redundancies.

        Whether it's IBM (since 1911), JCB (since 1945), Boeing (since 1916), John Deere (since 1837) or RBS (since 1727).

        Okay, RBS isn't the greatest example, but it hardly means the company is about to go bust or the management "doesn't know what it's doing" (Fred the Shred knew exactly what he was doing, in the knowledge the government would bail him out). Given the parlous state of US Employment law and the laughable notion of "Employee Rights", it's no shock to see companies hiring and firing as it suits them.

        This is not the first time SpaceX have had a round of staff cuts (though 10% is more than usual), nor is it especially unexpected - R&D on Falcon Heavy is done, they don't need as many F9s or Merlin 1D engines because they're reusing so many - so certain manufacturing jobs at Hawthorne are going. They don't need as many people for refurb/inspection as they did for manufacturing new vehicles but StarShip production hasn't started yet beyond the prototypes, so the production staff are being scaled back. And indeed reading round the forums there's appears to be one of those fabled management culls bundled for good measure, which is why it's 10% rather than 5-7%.

        They've also worked their way through a significant backlog of customers, so launch cadence is liable to level off a bit this year until some of the "New Space" projects like SpaceX's own StarLink (and competitor projects) start launching.

      3. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Re: At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

        A 10% cut suddenly announced doesn't fill me with confidence that the management knows what it's doing.

        Normal practice for US corporations, IME. If the quarterly results are bad, or if the executive share options are out of the money, just throw some employees on the bonfire.

        That's the bad side, the good side is that US companies are more willing to hire freely than European companies, partly because they know they can get rid of staff easily, but also to build a buffer that can be sacrificed to appease investors.

        1. aks Bronze badge

          Re: At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

          Having been made redundant four times in my career, twice by the same company, it all depends on the state of the local economy.

          In the USA it's controlled at the State level rather than Federal. In some locations there are plenty of alternative companies to apply to. In others there are none which need your specific skill-set which is why it's useful to have a portfolio of skills.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: At least SpaceX didn't bin them a week before Christmas

        "That means proper plans for career development "

        I've heard of career development, seems to be something that happens to other people....

        still , 24 years in , and the 2nd rung is in sight ... on the horizon.

  4. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge

    Danger! <insert robot voice here>

    In the video it was amazing to see the lander autonomously seek out a flat landing site. That must be some pretty sophisticated software at work. Cool!

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Danger! <insert robot voice here>

      Yes, that was what I noticed first. It shows how far things have come from Beagle 2.

      The Chinese space agency really does deserve congratulations. This also, along with other recent missions, to my mind, shows why manned operations are increasingly irrelevant. Putting a man on Mars is really just about trying to survive radiation and terminal boredom, followed by dying anyway when supplies run out. It's about status. These robotic expeditions are about finding things out.

      When we use an electron microscope, nobody bangs on about manned expeditions to the vacuum chamber, but we don't really get any closer to the specimen than if it's being analysed by a Mars Rover.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Danger! <insert robot voice here>

        I dunno - I remember the joy of holding the specimens after we'd coated them with gold when my dad took me on a tour of his EM lab. And then we'd pop them in the EM and the plopping of the vacuum pump was brilliant for building up the tension!

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Danger! <insert robot voice here>

        To be fair, Mars has about double the gravity, and an atmosphere, making a landing like this much more difficult there. And let's not forget the Curiosity's landing method of lowering the rover from a hovering rocket skycrane. That was pretty damn cool. Lastly, keep in mind Beagle was built to a budget, both financially and in weight terms. Adding propellant to do a mid decent hover adds a lot of weight. Just dropping straight to the surface with airbags and a parachute is just a lot more efficient weight-wise

  5. I&I

    Final stage of landing seemed a bit sudden/heavy - e.g. compared to the classic “Eagle” (Apollo) one.

    1. I&I

      Hey there’s a thought... crowd funded landing... subscription/donation rate shooting up as the ground approaches...

    2. Furbian

      Maybe due to lack of people onboard.

      .. or it was remote controlled and someone's hand slipped at the last moment. On a more serious note did they have comms link during landing, or was it obscured by the moon and it was all automated?

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Maybe due to lack of people onboard.

        And I should add, the reason the Apollo LM's did the "drop like a brick for the last bit" landing was that the engine bell didn't have sufficient clearance if a stiff landing was made and could get damaged, which might be problematic if it's still providing thrust.

        For the Chinese landing it was probably a matter of "crush tube shock absorbers are sufficient and lighter than slowing down under power". If you can survive hitting the surface at (what looks like) about 3 to 5 m/s, then that's a lot of slowing down you don't need to do any other way. And it makes sure you don't bounce. You can absorb all that energy in one go and stay where you plonk down much more assuredly than with a gentle touchdown (especially on a slope, where the vertical axis of the craft suddenly starts differing from vertical).

        Finally for comparison, it seems Apollo 15 made the hardest landing of the program. Now compare this video of that landing with the Chinese vide. Keep in mind the Apollo video was shot with a much narrower angle lens from several meters above the surface and the Chinese lander video was filmed with a higher angle and ends up MUCH closer to the lunar surface. I dare say the Chinese pulled off a very smooth landing indeed based on this.

        For those interested in LM landing gear design, references:

    3. imanidiot Silver badge

      Look at some of the landing videos from other Apollo missions. The LM was designed to shut down it's engine 1.6 meters (a bit over 5 feet) above the surface and just drop the rest of the way. Armstrong however was a bit of a perfectionist and since he was manually controlling the decent anyway (because of the computer problems they were having) he set it down much more gently than some of the other landings. The landing gear incorporated some sizeable shock absorbers. I can't find the data now but I suspect Apollo 11 made (one of the) softest landings in the Apollo program.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        "Armstrong however was a bit of a perfectionist and since he was manually controlling the decent anyway (because of the computer problems they were having)"

        It was because the landing site that had been selected in a crater turned out to be full of big rocks (which weren't visible from the orbital pictures they had at that point), so he coasted them over that and landed on the far side of the crater. All of the Apollo landings used a semi-automatic control system, allowing the commander to fine tune the exact landing site, which was necessary on every flight because there's a limit to what you can see from orbit. ("Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 claimed he intended to use the automatic landing if it looked safe to do so")

        The computer errors weren't affecting the ability of the spacecraft to land (see here for the layman's version or here for the fully in depth version by one of the people who programmed the computer), they were warnings that it was getting overloaded, but landing was highest priority and the computer was able to perform it's tasks relating to landing.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Yes, the PNGC did most of the decent and Armstrong took control because of the boulders, but he flew Eagle down to the surface for a very soft landing when the procedure was basically "contact light on = Engine off, drop the rest of the way". I didn't say he took control just to make a soft landing. *pedantic mode off*

          From what I can find most landings in the Apollo program happened under control of the guidance system, with the pilot or commander only moving the landing point around a bit by providing input to said guidance sytem. I seem to recall thr decent of Apollo 11 was also happening completely statisfactory under the control of the guidance system, apart from heading for the above mentioned rock filled crater field. I seem to recall Armstrong mentioning that he took manual control when the 1202 alarm went off as he mentioned the LM still responded to control input.

          1. DropBear Silver badge

            "Prepare to die"

            You keep using that word, "decent". I don't think it means what you think it means...

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: "Prepare to die"

              You know very well I meant descent... I can't help it you lot came up with such a convoluted language.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    21st century employment prospects in space?

    I guess it will be exploring for some time if it can be recharged from the sun belting down on it. Long after we are bored of seeing another angle of the same barren nothing.

    How mad would an astronaut go within a month of viewing nothing new at all in every direction. At least you can browse the internet at mission hq as another series of empty horizon shots render on the screen.

    Cant remember the last time the news mentioned the rover on mars.

    Being as every new technology breakthrough is to reduce human involvment space is the next obvious target for human redundancy.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Re: 21st century employment prospects in space? - human redundancy

        Just because the ISS doesnt get any major publicity doesnt mean it's not producing great science:

        here's a short highlight of things they're working on now:

        If you cant be bothered reading that (it's not that long!), there's experiments on the effect of space flight on humans (strength, grip/agility, and immune system testing), experiments to research into asthma and other airway/lung disease, experiments into loss of bone density (as experienced by millions of the elderly world wide), research into compounds that cause parkinsons disease, research into aerogels and their ability effectiveness to be a healing patch. Plus a number of others. Go read the article.

        None of those experiments could be done by robots alone. The ISS does a ton of great science, arguably more than sending another probe to have a look at a dead rock we've already visited 30 years ago. But because it's slow and steady research it doesnt get the excitement factor and thus the publicity. Have a look into some of those experiments in detail and you'll see they are very interesting and offer a lot of potential for making people on Earth's lives much better.

        The ISS deserves all the funding it can get (and more)!

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: 21st century employment prospects in space? - human redundancy

          The ISS is a requirement, if we ever want to do more in space with humans. Also if we want to do any space construction or maintenance work. Just the very existence of the thing is an experiment in itself. How to operate in space in the long-term - which is still something we can't do.

          It seems to me that the obvious prize is human repair/re-stocking of satellites in orbit. Though that's a difficult financial balance to make. As launch costs drop, it gets easier to build a lower cost satellite and accept a shorter lifespan and just launch more / more often.

          If we want to do something like mine an asteroid though, we're going to need people. And a ship that will need assembly in orbit - short of using Project Orion to launch it. Both of which are things we are learning about on the ISS.

          Plus, the ISS has given NASA a reason to fund private industry to do launch. Which has got us 2 new manned spacecraft (to be tested this year).

          Oh and the ISS has mostly fulfilled its other purpose of keeping Russian rocket scientists off the job market - which has made dealing with Iran and North Korea a tad less fraught over the last couple of decades.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: 21st century employment prospects in space? - human redundancy

            "The ISS is a requirement, if we ever want to do more in space with humans."

            I know it's an unpopular view but I don't think we will.

            In the early days of science fiction everything seemed so simple - spaceships were just going to be like submarines with the pressure the other way round, some kind of anti-gravity drive would emerge magically. In fact the rocket laws haven't changed in the slightest, while we've come to realise how much radiation and stuff there is out there. Let's deal with the radiation on the way to Mars with big water bags. OK, we still have to get the water up there and propel it. At some point in every proposal there's handwaving around the sheer amount of energy needed. Space elevators - made of unobtainium with no safety factor.

            Meanwhile the resource wars of climate change have already started in the Middle East, and you can say they are happening in the form of the murder and displacement of native peoples as illegal farming occupies more and more of the world. Exploitation economies want expensive oil and gas, development economies want it cheap.

            I'm all for scientific exploration, if only on the offchance it enables us to avoid an extinction event, but I remain unconvinced that asteroid mining and the like is going to happen, due to the energetics on the one hand and human fragility on the other.

            1. Brangdon

              Re: due to the energetics on the one hand

              Fuel is cheap. Space has been expensive mainly due to rockets only getting used once. That era is ending. Then it comes down to ambition. SpaceX have a detailed plan to land 100 tonnes safely on Mars at reasonable cost. Transit times are under 4 months so the radiation risk is tolerable.

  7. el_oscuro

    Landing on the Mun

    Looks like Jedediah Kerman's view just before my first Mun landing. You have to burn retrograde (sideways) to lose all of your horizontal velocity, otherwise your lander will tip over and/or explode when you try to land. Once you have stopped, point your rockets to the ground to keep your descent under control. The LT-2 Landing Struts are rated at 12m/second but anything above 5 will probably be very explody.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Landing on the Mun

      Jebediah, Jeb, with a B. That is all, carry on.

      --> Mines the one with the Rockomax logo and the LT-05 micro landing leg sticking out the pocket.

  8. lglethal Silver badge

    Warning: Joke Alert!

    Is China using the same moon landing set in Arizona as NASA? It looks far too similar to be coincidence! Or is this another one of those things Trump says China are stealing? Coming in and stealing the plans of NASA's moon landing set, its just despicable ain't it? Taking all of America's hard work faking the Moon Landings and here they are pretending they've landed on the Moon as well. Disgraceful!

    1. Little Mouse

      Re: Warning: Joke Alert!

      Unlike Mars, the Moon just doesn't do itself any favours because it actually looks like an indoor movie set.

      There's no colour to the sky and no familiar landscape features that give us a sense of scale or distance , etc.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Warning: Joke Alert!

        Which is why it's humanity's sacred mission to fix that, bringing it to life by populating it with freely roaming magnificent Strandbeest(en?), only solar- instead of wind-based...!

  9. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Not a chance

    More of that!

    Not any time soon. As long as gearing for an offensive war is mandated by the USA (4% GDP is gearing to attack someone, there is nothing defensive in it) there will be none. There will be no money for it.

    Further to this, the actual military spend is more. If we include sanctions related loss of income incurred on _OUR_ side it is in the 5-7% range now even before we go to 4% GDP NATO mandated budget. The same is valid for the "adversary" - they have no choice but to match our spend and they have to incur losses in a similar manner. In fact, when you add all the numbers if is the cost of fighting a BIG war already without any of the infrastructure and economical "benefits" of war footing.

    What you see is the natural result of a defensive military budget at ~2% GDP (2.3 in 2017) with no "hidden" additional loss due to sanctions. They have money to spend aplenty.

    We _WILL_ see more of that. Naturally. From China.

    But not from us. Unless key European governments finally do some logical conclusions from David Petraeus words about NATO and Putin and act on them (no point to expect USA doing it). Quite funny - he is saying what I have been saying for the last decade :)

  10. cyduck2020

    No parking

    Nice touch with the traffic cone. Don't want any other nations to be parking their rovers there!

  11. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    off topic trivia

    You know what the nearest planet to earth is?

    Sometimes its Mars

    Sometimes it Venus

    *most* of the time is mercury. (45%)

    tru dat, i heard it on Radio 4 the other day, from an asrto-physicist

  12. Benchops

    Is that a hoof?

  13. hellwig Silver badge

    Recursive Surface

    As the lander kept getting lower, it was disorienting that the craters kept getting bigger, and then newer smaller craters kept appearing, then kept getting bigger. More and more and then bam, landed. Those must have been small craters at the end.

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