HONG KONG — China’s latest display of ambition in space involves sending a Jade Rabbit roaming across the Bay of Rainbows.
A rocket blasted off from southwest China early Monday, carrying the country’s first robotic lunar rover, the Jade Rabbit, which will explore a plain on the moon that, despite its colorful name, is a dark expanse of hardened lava.
If successful, the Chang’e-3 mission will be China’s first “soft landing” on the moon — which allows a craft to operate after descending — and the first such landing by any country since 1976, when the Soviet Union sent a probe.
The last US expedition on the moon’s surface was a manned visit in 1972. Chinese state-run television broadcast footage of the rocket’s untroubled launch and ascent into space, where the Chang’e-3 craft set off toward the moon.
Also Sunday, India’s Mars orbiter mission left Earth orbit after performing a maneuver to put it on its way to the red planet.
The spacecraft fired its main engine for more than 20 minutes to reach the correct velocity, the Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organization said. It said all systems on the spacecraft were performing normally.