Beijing: China will launch its first ever mission to land an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface next week, as it moves forward in its ambitious plan to become the world's pre-eminent space power.
The Chang'e-3 moon rover will be launched at 1:30 a.m. on Monday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, the mission's launching headquarters said here Saturday.
China has already sent two moon missions which hovered around the lunar orbit.
This will be the first time for China to send an unmanned spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body and conduct surveys on the moon.
Facilities at the launching site are in good conditions and preparations for the launch are going well, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the space officials as saying.
Chang'e-3 comprises a lander and a moon rover called "Yutu" (Jade Rabbit). The rover was named "Yutu" following an online poll seeking name proposals from the Chinese worldwide.
In Chinese folklore, Yutu is the white pet rabbit of Chang'e, worshiped as the moon goddess in China for thousands of years. Tasks for Yutu include surveying the moon's geological structure and surface substances, while looking for natural resources.
The Chang'e-3 mission is the second phase of China's lunar programme, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth. China had launched its Chang'e-1 orbiter in 2007 and Chang'e-2 in 2010.
The first probe retrieved a great deal of scientific data and a complete map of the moon, while the second created a full high-resolution map of the moon and a high-definition image of Sinus Iridium, a lunar landmark.
Chang'e-2 which was launched in 2010 orbited the moon to finish a more extensive probe than its predecessor Chang'e-1.
After finishing its objectives in June, 2011, Chang'e-2 left its lunar orbit for an extended mission to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point, according to Chinese space officials.
Besides continuing its lunar programme, China's space programme is focussing on building a permanent space station like Mir, the Russian space station being used by US.
China has flown to manned missions to link up with an orbiting module to master the manual and automatic space docking technologies.
China's deep-space exploration should go beyond the moon, and the country's scientists are actively preparing to implement plans to explore Mars, Venus and asteroids, said Ye Peijian, chief scientist of the Chang'e-3 programme.
"Scientists are always prepared to conduct deep-space exploration and will do it after conditions permit," said Ye.
India's Mars mission Mangalyan, which was launched this month, has evoked considerable interest in China as it enabled New Delhi to steal march over Beijing specially with a modest budget of USD 73 million.
While announcing the Change-3 mission on November 26, SASTIND spokesman Wu Zhijian congratulated India for the Mars mission, while asserting that China is not in competition with any country in its space programme.