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China's Jade Rabbit rolls onto Moon's surface

China’s Jade Rabbit rover has rolled onto the Moon's surface after the world's first successful soft lunar landing in decades. The mission already represents a giant leap for Beijing's space program.

Chinese state television CCTV showed the rover moving away from the lander at 4.35 a.m. Beijing time (1935 UTC).

CCTV cited the Beijing Aerospace Control Center as saying that the rover had "touched the lunar surface."

The six-wheeled vehicle is set to spend three months exploring the surface of the Moon, collecting soil samples, surveying the Moon's geological structure using ground-penetrating radar and looking for signs of natural resources.

The rover will be remotely controlled by Chinese control centers with help from European Space Agency (ESA) tracking and transmission stations around the world.

Chinese state media reported the Moon landing at roughly 1311 UTC. Initial reports provided few details of the event.

The probe - which hovered for several minutes before touching down - landed on a 400-kilometer (250-mile) wide plain known as Sinus Iridum, or The Bay of Rainbows.

Name with mythological origins

The Chang'e-3 mission is named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology. The rover vehicle is called Yutu, meaning Jade Rabbit, after her mythological pet.

A soft lunar landing ensures that the craft and its cargo are not damaged, so that equipment such as the Jade Rabbit buggy can be deployed intact.

The landing made China only the third country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon's surface.

The last lunar soft landing was made by the former Soviet Union in 1976 in the wake of the United State's first manned Apollo mission in 1969. The last US Apollo explorers visited the Moon's surface in 1972.

rc/lw (dpa, AP, Reuters)