Dec. 2 (UPI)-- China launched its lunar probe early Monday morning with plans to be the third country to land a rover on the moon.
The Chang'e-3 probe and Yutu (Jade Rabbit) lunar rover were launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 1:30 a.m. Monday local time. Today's launch represents the second-phase of China's space program, following Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 missions in 2007 and 2010. China anticipates the Chang'e-3 lunar probe will land on the moon in mid-December.
The 260lb Jade Rabbit rover was designed by Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute. The rover can maneuver 30 degree vertical slopes and move as fast as 660 feet per hour.
The rover got its name, Yutu or Jade Rabbit in English, from an ancient Chinese myth. According to Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the moon rover project, ancient beliefs were born from observations of the dark marks on the moon's landscape. "Our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees, and a jade rabbit."
If successful in its mission, China will join the United States and the former Soviet Union as one of the few countries to land a rover on the moon.
[China Daily] [BBC] [South China Morning Post]