China says the launch of its first robotic mission to the moon's surface has been a success.
The Chang'e-3 lunar probe, which includes the "Jade Rabbit" rover buggy, blasted off early Monday from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China's southwestern Sichuan province.
The probe is scheduled to land on the moon in mid-December to explore the lunar surface. China is aiming to become only the third nation to carry out a lunar rover mission, following the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Online reactions to the launch from the Chinese public were mixed.
One user of the Weibo micro-blogging platform said the mission is a matter of national pride. (http://weibo.com/u/1740806194) "It is an exciting news that China successfully launched Chang'e 3. I still remember the launch of China's first satellite Dongfanghong. ... I am proud of my country."
But some question why Beijing is spending so much on its space program.
One user said he had other priorities. (http://weibo.com/u/2393557531) "I don't care about Chang'e 3, 2 or 1. What I care about is whether I can afford to go to doctor when I am sick."
Australia-based independent Asia space analyst Morris Jones says this mission is ambitious.
"Landing on the moon is going to be tricky. The moon is fairly treacherous terrain. There is no pilot on board, and so it is going to take a lot of skill by the onboard computer to steer the vehicle to a safe landing."
This craft is expected to make a "soft" lunar landing, which was last accomplished by the Soviet Union in 1976. "Hard" crash landings are easier, and China crashed a craft into the moon in 2009.
President Xi Jinping has said he wants China to establish itself as a space superpower, and the mission has inspired widespread pride in China's growing technological prowess.
The RAND Corporation's Scott Harold told VOA's Victor Beattie the space program underscores China's technological nationalism.
"It is definitely a part of the Chinese government's efforts to show that they are coming of age. They are really increasing their technological sophistication and they're playing on a very big stage."
Beijing aims to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send someone to the moon.
In 2007, China launched its first moon orbiter, the Chang'e-1, named after a lunar goddess, which took images of the surface and analyzed the distribution of elements.
The lunar buggy was named the Jade Rabbit, or "Yutu," in a public vote, a folkloric reference to the goddess's pet.
(VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report from Washington.)