China's first lunar rover is set toland on the moon tomorrow, making the communist giant one of the three world powers to "soft-land" on the moon's surface.
Less than two weeks after it blasted off from the Earth, Chang'e-3, the unmanned spacecraft carrying the rover, is due to touch down on a lava plain named Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, shortly after 2030 IST on December 14.
The landing will make China one of only three nations --after the United States and the former Soviet Union -- to "soft-land" on the moon's surface, and the first to do so in more than three decades.
On landing, Chang'e-3 will release Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) - a six-wheeled lunar rover equipped with at least four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples to a depth of 30 metres. The solar-powered rover will patrol the moon's surface, studying the structure of the lunar crust as well as soil and rocks, for at least three months.
The touchdown was described as the mission's "most difficult" task by the Chinese Academy of Sciences on behalf of the country's space authorities in a post on the mission's official blog on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
The successful launch of Chang'e 3 and Yutu marks a giant step in China's lunar probe programme, state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
The robot's name was decided by a public online poll and comes from a Chinese myth about the pet white rabbit of a goddess, Chang'e, who is said to live on the moon.
Weighing 140 kilogrammes, the slow-moving rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations and a powerful ultraviolet camera that will monitor how solar activity affects the various layers that make up the Earth's atmosphere, China's information technology ministry said in a statement.
China has rapidly built up its space programme since it first sent an astronaut into space in 2003.
The Chang'e-3 mission constitutes the second phase of China's moon exploration programme, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to the Earth.