The Chang’e-3 rocket, carrying the Jade Rabbit rover, blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest province of Sichuan yesterday.
Beijing: China launched its first ever extraterrestrial landing craft into orbit en route for the moon in the small hours of yesterday, in a major milestone for its space programme.
The Chang’e-3 lunar probe, which includes the Yutu or Jade Rabbit buggy, blasted off on board an enhanced Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China’s southwestern Sichuan province at 1:30am (12:30pm EDT).
President Xi Jinping has said he wants China to establish itself as a space superpower, and the mission has inspired pride in China’s growing technological prowess. State television showed a live broadcast of the rocket lifting off.
If all goes smoothly, the rover will conduct geological surveys and search for natural resources after the probe touches down on the moon in mid-December as China’s first spacecraft to make a soft landing beyond Earth.
“The probe has already entered the designated orbit,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Zhang Zhenzhong, director of the launch centre, as saying. “I now announce the launch was successful.”
“We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation,” he added.
In 2007, China launched its first moon orbiter, the Chang’e-1 - named after a lunar goddess - which took images of the surface and analysed the distribution of elements.
Chinese scientists have discussed the possibility of sending a human to the moon after 2020.
If the lunar mission is successful, China will become the third country, after the United States and the former Soviet Union, to soft-land on the moon.
China is looking to land a probe on the moon, release a moon rover and return the probe to the Earth in 2017, Xinhua said.
Beijing insists its space programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US Department of Defence has made clear it wants to prevent China’s increasing space capabilities giving it any strategic advantage. China says it will share the technological achievements of its manned space programme with other nations, especially developing ones, and will offer to train astronauts from other countries. Reuters