China launches first moon mission
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
- NEW: China launched an unmanned lunar probe Monday
- Chang'e-3 will release a solar-powered rover on the moon's surface
- The probe may interfere with a NASA lunar dust study, U.S. scientist says
(CNN) -- China launched its first lunar probe early Monday, which, if all goes well, will make it only the third nation -- after the United States and the Soviet Union -- to soft-land on the moon.
The launch of the unmanned probe took place at 1:30 a.m. Monday (12:30 p.m. ET Sunday), state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chang'e-3 blasted off from a Long March 3B rocket in Sichuan province located in southwest China and is expected to land on the moon's surface in mid-December.
The new space effort comes just over a decade after the country first sent an astronaut into space.
Unlike the soft-landing of the U.S. and the Soviet Union's unmanned spacecraft, Chang'e-3 will be able to survey the landscape first and determine the safest spot.
Researchers say an impact crater named Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, is its likely destination. In 2010, China's previous lunar mission captured images of the crater while scouting potential landing sites for the 2013 probe.
China sets course for lunar landing this year
Teaching class from a space lab
China unveils new space mission
On landing, the spacecraft will release Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) -- a six-wheeled lunar rover equipped with four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples, a designer for the rover told Xinhua last month. A public poll determined the the solar-powered robot's name, which comes from the white pet rabbit of the Chinese moon godess Chang'e. The slow-moving rover will patrol the moon's surface for at least three months, according to Xinhua.
Timeline: China's race into space
In the United States, scientists are concerned the Chinese mission could interfere with a NASA study of the moon's dust environment. Chang'e-3's descent is likely to create a noticeable plume on the moon's surface that could skew the results of research already being carried out by NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), Jeff Plescia, chair of NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group told Space.com, a space news site.
Chopsticks and soup spoons the inspiration behind China's space tools
Today's five most popular stories
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.