China has launched its first robotic expedition to the moon's surface, the latest step in an ambitious space program seen to reflect the country's rising global stature.
The Chang'e-3 lunar probe, which includes the "Jade Rabbit" rover buggy, blasted off early Monday morning on board an enhanced carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China's southwestern Sichuan province.
Chinese state television showed a live broadcast of the rocket lifting off.
The probe is due to land on the moon in mid-December to explore its surface and look for natural resources. It is the world's third lunar rover mission following ones from the United States and former Soviet Union decades earlier.
"Hard" crash landings are easier, and China crashed a craft into the moon in 2009. The last soft landing on the moon was by the Soviet Union in 1976.
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.
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.
Online reactions to the launch from the Chinese public were mixed, ranging from expressions of pride of country to criticism that the accomplishment was done without the consent of the people and did nothing to help clothe and feed the population.
Beijing aims to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send someone to the moon.