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One small step: China lands spacecraft on the moon

It is the first time in almost four decades that a spacecraft has landed on the moon.

Scientists at the control centre applaud as the spacecraft touches down
Scientists at the control centre applaud as the spacecraft touches down
Image: Screengrab via CCTV

Updated 19:59

A SPACE MODULE carrying China’s first lunar rover has landed on the moon today,  the first soft landing on the moon in nearly four decades and a major step for the emerging superpower’s ambitious space programme.

Scientists burst into applause as a computer generated image representing the spacecraft was seen landing on the moon’s surface via screens at a Beijing control centre, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed, 12 days after Chang’e-3 blasted off on a Long March-3B carrier rocket.

China is set to become just the third country to carry out a moon rover mission, following the United States and former Soviet Union, which also made the last soft landing on the moon 37 years ago.

The probe touched down on an ancient 400-kilometre wide plain known in Latin as Sinus Iridum, or The Bay of Rainbows.

imageControl centre in Beijing. (Screengrab via CCTV)

The landing was previously described as the “most difficult” part of the mission by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a post on Chang’e-3′s microblogging page on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter equivalent.

Many Chinese took to the country’s Internet message boards expressing joy at the news, which state news agency Xinhua described as a “historic breakthrough” in an emotional editorial.

“Space exploration is the cause of mankind, not just ‘the patent’ of a certain country,” the commentary said.

“China will share the achievements of its lunar exploration with the whole world and use them to benefit humanity.”

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The probe used sensors and 3D imaging to identify a flat surface. Thrusters were then deployed 100 metres (330 feet) from the lunar surface to gently guide the craft into position.

The landing marks the latest step in an ambitious space programme which is seen as a symbol of China’s rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once impoverished nation.

It comes a decade after the country first sent an astronaut into space, and ahead of plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon.

- © AFP, 2013

Originally published 2.09pm

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