China to land first Jade Rabbit Moon probe next month

A model of China's lunar rover, named "Jade Rabbit"
Image caption A model of the rover was shown at an industry fair in Shanghai earlier this month

Chinese officials say they intend to land the country's first unmanned probe on the Moon next month.

The probe has been named Yutu or "Jade Rabbit", after the character that Chinese folklore says lives on the Moon's surface.

In recent years, China has made considerable progress in its space programme.

In June, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked their craft with an experimental space laboratory.

In 2007, the country despatched an unmanned spacecraft called Chang'e to orbit the Moon.

The craft stayed in space for 16 months before being intentionally crashed on to the Moon's surface.

A specific date for the latest launch, first announced in August, has not been given but officials said on Tuesday that it would happen in early December.

If all goes according to plan, the lunar probe will land on the Moon sometime in the middle of the month.

A landing vehicle will carry the rover, which will explore an area called the Bay of Rainbows, surveying the surface over three months.

The name Jade Rabbit was chosen after an online poll in which millions took part.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third country after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently.

The military-backed space programme is a source of national pride.

China is one of only three countries to have managed to independently send humans into space, the others being Russia and the US.

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