China landed an unmanned rover on the moon, making the Asian nation the third country after the U.S. and the Soviet Union to touch down a spacecraft on the lunar surface.
The probe, carrying a rover dubbed Jade Rabbit that will survey the moon’s geology and natural resources, landed at about 9 p.m. Beijing time yesterday, the Xinhua News Agency said. China’s achievement comes 47 years after the Soviet Union performed a soft landing of its Luna 9 spacecraft on the moon.
The launch is part of the Asian nation’s growing space exploration ambitions, an effort which has seen the country spend billions of dollars even as other nations cut back. For its next step, China wants to land a lunar rover and return it to Earth in 2017, according to Xinhua.
China conducted its first manned docking mission in June 2012 and is aiming to put a person on the moon by 2020, as well as operate a permanent manned space station.
The Long March 3B rocket carrying the probe, called Chang’e-3, took off from the Xichang satellite launch center in southwest China on Dec. 2. Jade Rabbit, the moon rover named after the pet rabbit of lunar goddess Chang’e in ancient Chinese mythology, separated from the landing vehicle at 4:35 a.m. today, Xinhua said in a separate report.
The landing marked the formal opening of China’s first center designed to operate deep space missions today, the state-run news agency said. The center, which can accommodate 40 operating posts ranging from commanding to route planning, will control the movements of the rover and lander, according to Xinhua.
China sent its first man into orbit in 2003 and conducted its first spacewalk in 2008, decades after the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Chinese state media had earlier described the space program as an element of the “Chinese Dream,” a slogan unveiled by President Xi Jinping that signifies a stronger military and improved livelihoods.
Last month, India began a mission to Mars, also seeking to showcase its push for technological development. It plans to put a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, a feat only the U.S., Europe and Russia have achieved.
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