CHINA - China launched its first ever extraterrestrial landing craft into orbit en route for the moon in the small hours of Monday, 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 1:30 a.m. (1730 GMT).
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.
The lunar buggy was named the Jade Rabbit in a public vote, a folkloric reference to the goddess's pet.
Chinese scientists have discussed the possibility of sending a human to the moon some time after 2020.