UK & World News

  • 14 December 2013, 10:51

China's 'Jade Rabbit' Set For Moon Landing

China is preparing to land a rover on the surface of the Moon, making it only the third nation to do so and taking a big step towards becoming a global player in space.

It has been 37 years since a rover has landed on the Moon and millions of people around the world are expected to be following the operation this afternoon.

The Jade Rabbit or "Yutu" rover was launched into space onboard its Chang'e-3 rocket on December 1 from southern China.

The name was chosen in an online poll of 3.4 million voters indicating just how important this mission is to the Chinese public.

It comes from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the Moon as the pet of Chang'e, a lunar goddess who swallowed an immortality pill.

If the soft landing is a success, the Jade Rabbit will be deployed to search the surface of the Moon and look for natural resources.

It is the next step in China's ambitious plans to land astronauts on the surface by around 2025.

As well as space enthusiasts, many private space companies will be watching the landing closely.

Teams taking part in the Google Lunar XPRIZE are competing for $30m (18m) to become the first private organisation to send pictures back from the Moon by 2015.

Alexandra Hall, director of Lunar XPRIZE, told Sky News: "The space community is a truly global endeavour and although there are politics involved, there are many engineers and scientists around the world feeling for those guys and girls in mission control in China right now.

"It is actually quite difficult to land successfully on another planetary body so I think there is definitely a sympathy with the tension that is probably quite high in that control room."

China is on course to achieve ambitious goals in space.

In June, the country launched its fifth manned mission into space and is in the process of building a permanently manned station above the Earth.

Officials say their lunar landing is a mission of "great scientific and economic importance" and if it goes to planned could be followed up with another rover landing in 2017 to collect soil samples.

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