BEIJING: China’s state media and people eagerly awaited the launch on Monday of the country’s first lunar rover mission, the next step in an ambitious space program.
The Chang’e-3 rocket carrying the “Jade Rabbit” rover to explore the moon is set to blast off at 1:30 a.m. local time.
It will be the third such rover mission to the moon but will boast more sophisticated technology than United States (US) and Soviet missions decades earlier.
“The news channel will begin live coverage tonight at midnight . . . Spread the word!” state broadcaster CCTV said on its official account on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
The background of its Weibo page showed the moon’s surface in black and white with the gold-colored rover bearing the national flag of bright red with yellow stars.
China National Radio on one of its Weibo accounts promised two hours of live coverage starting an hour before the launch.
Only a few “narrow windows” of time are available for the launch over the coming days, some lasting only a few minutes, mission spokesman Pei Zhaoyu told Xinhua news agency on Friday.
If successful, the mission, aimed at exploring the moon’s surface and looking for natural resources, will be a milestone in China’s space exploration program.
It is “the most complicated and difficult task yet in China’s exploration of space” and incorporates lots of new technology, Xinhua quoted Wu Zhijian, a spokesman with the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, as saying last week.
Unlike previous American and Soviet versions, the Chang’e-3 could “accurately survey landforms at the landing site and identify the safest spots on which to land”, Xinhua has said.
The Jade Rabbit can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200 meters per hour, according to its designer the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.
Its name—chosen in an online poll of 3.4 million voters—derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as the pet of Chang’e, a lunar goddess who swallowed an immortality pill.