The Long March 3B rocket carrying the Chang'e-3 lunar probe blasts off from the launch pad at Xichang Satellite Launch Center early Dec. 2. (Photo: Li Gang, Xinhua, via AP)
BEIJING - China successfully launched a lunar probe into space Monday
morning, on a two-week journey to deliver a robotic rover to the
surface of the moon. The mission marks China's first attempt at
soft-landing a spacecraft on an extra-terrestrial body, and could
benefit future plans to land Chinese astronauts on the moon.
Long March rocket carrying the Chang'e 3 lunar lander blasted off at
1:30 a.m. local time Monday from southwest China's Xichang Satellite
Launch Center, reported the official Xinhua News Agency.
strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national
rejuvenation,'' said the center's director, Zhang Zhenzhong. China's
ruling Communist Party has used the military-backed, state-run space
program to boost national pride and support for its policies.
mid-December, Chang'e 3 aims to land on the moon's Bay of Rainbows, and
unleash the six-wheeled, solar-powered Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, lunar rover
to look for natural resources and conduct geological surveys for three
months. China hopes to become the third nation, after the USA and the
former Soviet Union, to achieve a difficult "soft landing" on the moon,
whereby the spacecraft and equipment remain intact. An earlier Chinese
orbiter made an intentional crash-landing on the moon.
spacecraft, bearing China's red, five-starred flag, will become the
first to visit the moon since the last Soviet unmanned mission there in
1976. One new feature is a ground-penetrating radar to measure the lunar
soil and crust. The mission represents the second stage of China's slow
but steady lunar program. In phase three, China will send another
robotic probe to gather lunar samples, possibly by 2020. A manned
mission could then follow.
While China's space achievements appear
to imitate those of the USA and Soviet Union in decades past, they stir
considerable pride and nationalism within China, whose government
stresses its use of indigenous technology, and peaceful aims in space.
Live TV broadcasts showed excited scenes at the launch center, where a
reporter from the national broadcaster CCTV embraced one delighted
Some viewers who stayed up to watch later went online to celebrate.
scientists are so great," wrote an "inspired and proud" Wang Wei on
Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like micro-blog platform. "Of course there's still
a definite gap from America sending humans to the moon, but this is
already amazing," wrote Wang, an economics professor in east China's
Other Internet users said the launch was even more stunning than the space movie Gravity,
currently no.1 at China's box office. Legend and literature abound in
China's real space program, where the space station that saves the day
in Gravity is called the Heavenly Palace, lunar spacecraft are
named after moon goddess Chang'e, and the lunar rover is named after her
While China's citizens cannot choose their leaders,
they were able to participate in an Internet poll that chose the "Jade
Rabbit" name. Chinese poets and folklore artists down the centuries have
depicted a white rabbit pounding a mortar and pestle to create an
elixir of immortality.
The secret of eternal life may remain
elusive, but Chinese scientists are hopeful the moon may offer up other
treasures such as rare metals and Helium-3, a potential fusion energy
source. China's ultimate aim is to use the moon as a "springboard" for
deep space exploration, said Luan Enjie, a senior adviser to China's
lunar program, in the China Daily newspaper.
The USA should
overcome its objections and cooperate with China in space, wrote Leroy
Chiao, a former NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space
Station, on the website Space.com in October.
"America, already on
the decline after the retirement of the space shuttle (now only Russia
and China can launch astronauts into space), will on the way down hand
over the leadership position of human spaceflight to the Chinese," he
said. Partnering with China "could be a win-win-win for all", but
"certain members of the U.S. Congress are dedicated to keeping China
out, dooming the United States to continue its decline in human
spaceflight," Chiao wrote.
Contributing: Sunny Yang