China to send first-ever probe to land on the Moon: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China will launch its first-ever probe to land on the Moon early next month, state media said on Tuesday, with the lunar rover named Jade Rabbit in a nod to Chinese folklore.

The name derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a white rabbit which lives on the moon as the pet of Chang'e, the lunar goddess who swallowed a pill of immortality.

The rocket carrying the probe will be launched in early December, China's official Xinhua news agency said, citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.

It did not give a specific date.

"China has named its first moon rover Yutu, or jade rabbit, following an online poll," Xinhua added.

The rabbit's outline is said to be visible on the moon's surface, equivalent to the Western concept of the "man in the moon".

Beijing sees its military-run space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might, as well as the ruling Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

It has ambitious plans to create a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon, but its technology currently lags behind the expertise of the United States and Russia.

China has showed off a model of the gold-coloured moon rover, with six wheels and wing-like solar panels, attracting admiring crowds in Shanghai earlier this month.

The vehicle can climb inclines of up to 30 degrees and travel up to 200m per hour, its designers said.

References to a moon rabbit in Chinese folklore date back to the Warring States period, which ended in 221 BC.

Mr Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the lunar rover project, told Xinhua that the ancient beliefs had their origins in the marks left by impacts on the surface of the moon.

"There are several black spots on the moon's surface, our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees, and a jade rabbit," he said.

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