China says it has successfully landed an unmanned vehicle onto the moon, becoming the third nation to touch down on the surface of earth's satellite. It was the world's first soft lunar landing in nearly four decades.
Chinese state media reported the moon landing at roughly 1300 UTC. Initial reports provided few details of the event.
In advance of the expected landing, the Chinese Academy of Sciences had said the spacecraft -"Chang'e 3" would land on the moon's plain knowin in Latin as Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows. The plain is approximately 400-kilometer (250 miles) wide.
The spacecraft would then deploy a solar-powered, unmanned vehicle, dubbed the Jade Rabbit rover, or "Yutu" in Chinese to conduct geological surveys.
The rover can climb slopes with an incline of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200 meters per hour, according to the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.
Four decades later
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.
In September the US space agency NASA launched the unmanned spacecraft LADEE to orbit the Moon - 250 kilometers above its surface - and sample its extremely thin atmosphere of gases and electrically-charged dust.
It was NASA's third lunar-bound probe in five years.
NASA's next big human exploration project plans to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
Almost simultaneously on Saturday, Iran said it had sent a monkey into space using a ballistic missile and returned it safely to Earth.
Tehran has rejected western charges that its space bids have military aims.
kms/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)