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Chinese unmanned spacecraft lands on moon

The Long March-3B rocket carrying the Chang'e-3 lunar probe blasts off from the launch pad at Xichang Satellite Launch Center

(Reuters) – China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the moon on Saturday, state media reported, in the first such “soft-landing” since 1976, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union in managing to accomplish such a feat.

The Chang’e 3, a probe named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, is carrying the solar-powered Yutu, or Jade Rabbit buggy, which will dig and conduct geological surveys.

China has been increasingly ambitious in developing its space programs, for military, commercial and scientific purposes.

In its most recent manned space mission in June, three astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with an experimental space laboratory, part of Beijing’s quest to build a working space station by 2020.

At 9:14 p.m. local time, the official Xinhua news service reported that the spacecraft had touched down in the Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, at 9:12 p.m. after hovering over the surface for several minutes seeking an appropriate place to land.

A soft landing does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries. In 2007, China put another lunar probe in orbit around the moon, which then executed a controlled crash on to its surface.

China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast images of the probe’s location on Saturday and a computer generated image of the probe on the surface of the moon on its website. The probe and the rover are expected to photograph each other tomorrow.

The Bay of Rainbows was selected because it has yet to be studied, has ample sunlight and is convenient for remote communications with Earth, Xinhua said.

The rover will be remotely controlled by Chinese control centers with support from a network of tracking and transmission stations around the world operated by the European Space Agency (ESA).

(Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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