China sent its first-ever unmanned space probe to the Moon Sunday night to explore the lunar surface,a major milestone that would also be the Communist giants maiden soft-landing on an extra-terrestrial celestial body.
The lunar probe launched at around 2200 hrs IST from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre,the missions launching headquarters said on Saturday.
With the launch,China expects to join an exclusive club,consisting of the United States and the former Soviet Union.
It is the first time that China is attempting a soft landing on a celestial body,and also the first time any lunar soft landing has been carried out since 1976,when other countries suspended exploration,said Li Benzheng,the deputy commander in chief of the lunar exploration programme.
Indias Chandrayaan-1,which was credited to have discovered water in the lunar surface,made a hard-landing on the Moon.
Using data collected by Chandrayaan mission,United States,NASA scientists have detected magmatic water locked under the surface of the Moon.
Coincidentally Chinas Change-3 is heading to the Moon at the same time that Indias Mangalayan orbiter cruised to Mars after leaving Earths orbit on Saturday night.
Earlier,Li congratulated India on its successful launch of a mission to Mars on Saturday. He said China is not competing with any other country,but is only interested in peaceful advancements.
After touching down on the Moons surface,the unmanned craft will release a roving vehicle called Yutu or jade rabbit in Chinese.
In folklore,a white rabbit is believed to be the pet of the Moon goddess,Change. Yutu will roam the Moons surface to learn more about the earths satellite,Li said.
The rover,equipped with four cameras,will patrol the surface for at least three months.
If it explores the edge of the crater,it will identify material that originated deep below the surface and providenew clues about the Moons history by digging to about 100 meters,space officials said.
Also,for the first time ever,China will establish a telescope on the Moon to observe Earth,state-run CCTV said.
The lander will open a new age in space exploration by China, Li said.