BEIJING- China launched its first moon rover mission early Monday, the latest step in an ambitious space programme seen as a symbol of its rising global stature.
The Chang'e-3 mission is named for the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology and the rover vehicle is called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, after her pet.
The Long March-3B carrier rocket - China's largest such vehicle - blasted off around 1:30 am (Sunday 1730 GMT), live coverage on state broadcaster CCTV showed.
As it shot into the night sky, mission observers could be heard reporting at regular intervals that events were proceeding "normally".
Within an hour the launch centre's director Zhang Zhenzhong appeared before staff and declared the mission a "success", CCTV showed.
The probe is due to land on the moon in mid-December to explore its surface and look for natural resources. It is the world's third lunar rover mission following the United States and former Soviet Union decades ago.
China sees its space programme as a symbol of its growing international status and technological advancement, as well as of the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once impoverished nation.
It aims to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon.