China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover sends first photos from moon

China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover sends first photos from moon

BEIJING - China's Jade Rabbit rover vehicle sent back photos from the moon Sunday after the first lunar soft landing in nearly four decades marked 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, said the official news agency Xinhua.

The rover and lander began taking photos of each other late Sunday, including one that showed the bright red and yellow stars of the Chinese flag on the Jade Rabbit as it stands on the moon's surface.

Xinhua said the photographing began at about 11:42 pm after the rover moved to a spot a few metres away from the lander.

The colour images were transmitted live to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, where Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang watched the broadcast.

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.

Beijing 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.

Ma Xingrui, chief commander of China's lunar programme, declared the mission a "complete success" after the photographs showed the lander and rover were working, Xinhua said.

A message from the party's Central Committee, the State Council - China's cabinet - and the Central Military Commission branded the touchdown a "milestone" in China's space programme, as cited by Xinhua late Sunday.

"One Giant Leap for China," read the headline in Hong Kong's Sunday Morning Post, evoking the words in 1969 of American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

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.

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