The nation is only the third in history to launch an unmanned lunar probe after the Chang’e-3 device, nicknamed ‘Jade Rabbit’ after a Chinese folklore character, set off on Sunday evening.
The lunar probe blasted off on board an enhanced Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s southwestern Sichuan province.
The probe, which can climb inclines of up to 30° and travel up to 200 metres per hour, is targeted to land within a huge volcanic crater known as Sinus Iridum, which means the Bay of Rainbows, on about December 14.
The mission is a huge step forward for its ambitious space programme and forms part of a plan in which China hopes to build a permanent lunar base in order to launch future missions to Mars within the next 15 years.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said he wants China to establish itself as a space superpower, and the mission has inspired widespread pride in China’s growing technological prowess.
If all goes smoothly, the rover will conduct geological surveys and search for natural resources after the probe touches down on the moon in mid-December.
It is designed to roam the lunar surface for at least 90 Earth days – three Lunar days – covering an area of about five square kilometres.
t will send probes beneath the surface as well as taking high-resolution images of the rock, a flat area formed from the molten basalt released by lunar volcanoes several billion years ago.
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China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third country after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently.
NASA to attempt growing vegetables on the moon
NASA is to try growing vegetables and herbs on the moon to see if humans could one day live there. The US space agency plans to send seeds to the moon in 2015 in sealed canisters containing everything that is needed for the seedlings to thrive. As well as 10 seeds each of basil and turnips, there will also be around 100 seeds of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. A group of scientists known as the Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team are behind the project. A NASA spokesman said, “They can test the lunar environment for us, acting as a canary in a coal mine. If we send plants and they thrive, then humans probably can.”