BEIJING - China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover vehicle drove onto the moon's surface on Sunday after the first soft landing on Earth's satellite in nearly four decades, marking a huge advance in the country's ambitious space programme.
The Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, was deployed at 4:35 am (2035 GMT Saturday), several hours after the Chang'e-3 probe landed on the moon, according to official news agency Xinhua.
China is the third country to complete a lunar rover mission after the United States and the former Soviet Union - a decade after it first sent an astronaut into space, and ahead of plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon. The mission is seen as a symbol of China's rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
The potential to extract the moon's resources has been touted as a key reason behind Beijing's space programme, with the moon believed to hold uranium, titanium, and other mineral resources, as well as offering the possibility of solar power generation.
"Chang'e-3 has successfully carried out a soft landing on the moon. This makes China the world's third nation to achieve a lunar soft landing," the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in an online post on the mission's official page on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter equivalent.
The landing, nearly two weeks after blast-off, was the first of its kind since the former Soviet Union's mission in 1976.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) featured extensive coverage of the mission and China's wider space ambitions.
The China Daily newspaper, under the headline "Touchdown", said the rover mission realises "China's long-cherished dream" of reaching the moon.