China's first moon rover has begun sending back photos, a day after the communist giant carried out the world's first lunar soft landing in nearly 40 years, making a huge advance in its ambitious space programme.
The Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, separated from the lander and the 140 kg six-wheeled rover touched the lunar surface at 4:35 a.m. on Saturday (20:35 GMT), leaving deep trace on the loose lunar soil, state-run Xinhua news agency said today.
At about 11:42 p.m. Beijing Time yesterday, the Jade Rabbit moved to a spot about 9 meters north to the lander.
The process was recorded by the camera on the lander and the images were sent to the earth. After the separation, the rover and lander took photos of each other and started their own scientific explorations, Xinhua reported today.
The color images, live transmitted via a deep space network designed by China, showed the Chinese national flag on Yutu. It marked the first time that the five-star red flag had pictures taken in an extraterrestrial body.
As a photo appeared on a big monitoring screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and dozens of center staff clapped hands in cheers.
Ma Xingrui, chief commander of China's lunar programme, announced that Chang'e-3 mission was a "complete success", Xinhua said.
China carried out the world's first lunar soft landing in nearly 40 years. The last soft landing was carried out by the Soviet Union in 1976.
Yutu will survey the moon's geological structure and surface substances and look for natural resources for three months, while the lander will conduct in-situ exploration at the landing site for one year.
Chang'e-3 landed on the moon's Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, making China the third country in the world to carry out such a rover mission after the US and Soviet Union.
Chang'e-3 is part of the second phase of China's lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to the Earth. It follows the success of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010.
In ancient Chinese mythology, Yutu was the white pet rabbit of the lunar goddess Chang'e. The name for the rover was selected following an online poll that collected several million votes from people around the world.
Beijing plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon.