The successful launch marks the next step in an ambitious space program that aims to send a Chinese astronaut to the moon.
BEIJING — China’s first moon rover set off slowly Sunday to travel across the right eye of the Man in the Moon, leaving the first wheeled tracks on the moon’s surface in nearly 40 years.
No quote emerged to rival “one giant leap for mankind,” but with one loud confirmation by mission control — “the probe landed safely” — China established its status Saturday night as the third nation ever to achieve a “soft-landing” on the moon.
Two weeks after its launch from southwest China, the Chang’e 3 lunar probe, named after a moon goddess, made a careful descent that was reported live on state television. Only the USA and former Soviet Union have previously made soft landings on the moon, whereby the spacecraft and equipment remain intact and operable.
Further celebrations followed Sunday morning as its major cargo, a solar-powered lunar rover named Jade Rabbit after the goddess’ pet, rolled down a ramp and set off on a three-month mission to hunt for natural resources and conduct geological surveys.