China takes a small step in lunar exploration
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China is to launch the country's first ever unmanned probe on the moon next month, an official said on Tuesday. The probe has been named "Jade Rabbit" in a nod to Chinese folklore.
China will land its first ever unmanned probe on the moon in early December, an official said on Tuesday, marking a milestone in the country's space ambitions.
The Chang’e Three moon mission will deploy a buggy, called “Jade Rabbit” after the character that Chinese folklore says lives on the moon as the pet of Chang'e, a lunar goddess.
The rabbit's outline is said to be visible on the moon's surface, like the Western "man in the moon". Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the moon rover project, told Xinhua that the ancient beliefs had their origins in the marks left by impacts on the lunar landscape.
"There are several black spots on the moon's surface, our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees, and a jade rabbit," he said.
China showed off a model of the gold-coloured moon rover, with six wheels and wing-like solar panels earlier this month.
Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, did not give a specific date for the landing.
"Chang'e Three's mission requires mastering many key technologies. The technical difficulties and the risks involved in carrying out the mission will be high," spokesman Wu Zhijian told a news conference, carried live on state television.
"In taking on the mission to land on the moon, Chang'e Three will help China fulfil its lunar exploration dream, its space dream and the Chinese dream," said Wu.
Chinese social media users welcomed the name on Tuesday. "I look forward to the jade rabbit visiting the moon palace, go Chinese aerospace!" wrote one poster on Sina Weibo, a service similar to Twitter.
Xinhua reported that 3.4 million people took part in the online poll to choose the buggy’s name.
"Yutu is a symbol of kindness, purity and agility, and is identical to the moon rover in both outlook and connotation," it quoted Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China's lunar programme, as saying.
"Yutu also reflects China's peaceful use of space," he added.
Advancing China's space programme has been a priority for the leadership, with President Xi Jinping calling for China to establish itself as a space superpower. Chang’e One was launched in 2007. Scientists have discussed the possibility of building a space station by 2020 and then sending a man to the moon.
Beijing insists its space programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US Defence Department has highlighted China's increasing space capabilities and said it was pursuing a variety of activities aimed at preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)