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China launches first moon rover mission

December 2, 2013: In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, the Long March 3B rocket carrying the Chang'e-3 lunar probe blasts off from the launch pad at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, southwest China's Sichuan Province. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Li Gang)

China launched its first mission Monday to land a rover on the moon, an unmanned operation scheduled to arrive in mid-December to start surveying the lunar surface and transmitting images.

A Long March-3B rocket carrying the Chang'e 3 lander blasted off Monday as scheduled at 1:30 a.m. from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

'We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.'

- Launch center director Zhang Zhenzhong

The launch center's director, Zhang Zhenzhong, declared the launch successful. "We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation," Zhang was quoted as saying.

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.

The moon rover carried in the latest mission, called "Yutu" — or "Jade Rabbit" in Chinese — will survey the moon's geological structures, Xinhua said.

A telescope will be set up on the moon to survey the moon surface and observe the earth's plasmasphere, a region of dense, cold plasma that surrounds the earth, 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.

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.