Updated: 12/14/2013 11:35 | By Agence France-Presse

China's first lunar rover to land on moon Saturday

A space module carrying China's first lunar rover is scheduled to land on the moon Saturday evening, state media said, in a huge step for the Asian superpower's ambitious space programme.


China's first lunar rover to land on moon Saturday

The moon shines over the Turret of Palace Museum at the Forbidden City in Beijing, December 13, 2013

The spacecraft is expected to make touchdown at 9:40 pm (1340 GMT), state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said, 12 days after the Chang'e-3 mission blasted off on a Long March-3B carrier rocket.

China is aiming to become the third country to carry out a rover mission, following the United States and former Soviet Union, which also made the last soft landing on the moon 37 years ago.

"China's lunar probe Chang'e-3 is expected to land on the moon at 21:40 BJT (Beijing Time) on Saturday," CCTV said in a post on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.

"The 12-minute autonomous landing will be the key to the success of the task," the post added.

The probe is expected to touch down on an ancient 400-kilometre (250-mile) wide plain known in Latin as Sinus Iridum, or The Bay of Rainbows.

Landing is the "most difficult" part of the mission, the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in an online post written on behalf of the country's space authorities.

The landing craft uses sensors to identify a flat surface, and thrusters to gently guide it to the lunar surface. It is also fitted with shock absorbers in the legs to cushion the impact of the landing.

After reaching the surface, the module will release its rover vehicle, which can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200 metres (660 feet) per hour, according to the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.

The Chang'e-3 mission is named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology and the rover vehicle is called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, after her pet.

The landing will mark the latest step in an ambitious space programme which is seen as a symbol of China's rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once impoverished nation.

It comes a decade after the country first sent an astronaut into space, and ahead of plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon.

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