China Blasts 'Jade Rabbit' to the Moon

BEIJING (AP) - China's first rover mission to the moon, launched on Dec. 2, is set to land this week. The robotic craft, Jade Rabbit, will trundle across the lunar landscape, examine its geology and beam images back to Earth.

A rocket carrying the rover aboard an unmanned Chang'e 3 spaceship blasted off from a launch center in southwestern China, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Its mid-December scheduled lunar landing is approaching. "We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation," Xichang Satellite Launch Center director Zhang Zhenzhong said.

If the Chang'e 3 successfully soft-lands on the moon, China will become the third country to do so, after the United States and the former Soviet Union. A soft landing does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries.

An earlier Chinese craft orbited and collected data before intentionally crash-landing on the moon.

Chang'e is a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, and Yutu -- "Jade Rabbit" -- is her pet.

The solar-powered rover will survey the moon's geological structures. It will also set up a telescope to survey the surface and observe the Earth's plasmasphere, a region of dense, cold plasma that surrounds the planet, Xinhua said.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently. China has already said its eventual goals are to have a space station and put an astronaut on the moon.

The military-backed space program is a source of enormous national pride and has powered ahead in a series of well-funded, methodically timed steps. It has already made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the United States and Russia in space technology and experience.

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