China's first lunar rover today successfully landed on the moon, making the communist giant one of three world powers to make a "soft landing" as part of an ambitious programme that aims to put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
The landing of the probe Chang'e-3, with China's first lunar rover, marked the first time that a soft landing has been made on the moon in nearly four decades.
The soft landing was carried out 12 days after the probe blasted off on an enhanced Long March-3B carrier rocket.
It also made China one of only three nations -- after the United States and the former Soviet Union -- to soft land on the moon. A soft landing is one which does not damage the spacecraft and the equipment it carries.
The probe is equipped with shock absorbers in its four "legs" to cushion the impact of the landing, making Chang'e-3 - that includes a lander and a moon rover called "Yutu" or Jade Rabbit - the first Chinese spacecraft with "legs."
The lunar probe touched down in Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, at 9:11 pm local time, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center.
During the process, the probe decelerated from 15 km above the moon, stayed hovering at 100 metres from the lunar surface to use sensors to assess the landing area to avoid obstacles and locate the final landing spot, and descended slowly onto the surface, state-run Xinhua reported.
The probe's soft-landing is the most difficult task during the mission, said Wu Weiren, the lunar programme's chief designer.
Chang'e-3 relied on auto-control for descent, range and velocity measurements, finding the proper landing point, and free-falling.
Chang'e-3 adopted a variable thrust engine completely designed and made by Chinese scientists. It can realise continuous variation of thrust power ranging from 1,500 to 7,500 newtons, according to Wu Weiren.
Yutu's tasks include surveying the moon's geological structure and surface substances and looking for natural resources. The lander will operate there for one year while the rover will be there for three months.
Chang'e-3 is part of the second phase of China's lunar programme, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to the Earth. It follows the success of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010.