BEIJING (AP) — China will attempt the world's first soft landing of a rover on the moon in nearly four decades Saturday, the latest step in the country's ambitious space program.
The Chang'e 3 lander, named after a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, is scheduled to touch down at 9:40 p.m. (1340 GMT; 8:40 a.m. EST) Saturday, according to state media.
The lander carries a moon rover called "Yutu," or "Jade Rabbit," the goddess' pet. After landing, the rover is slated to separate from the Chang'e and embark on a three-month scientific exploration.
China's space program is an enormous source of pride for the country. If successful, China will become the third country to carry out a lunar soft landing after the United States and the former Soviet Union. The last one was in 1976.
A soft landing does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries. An earlier Chinese craft orbited and collected data before intentionally crash-landing on the moon.
The Chang'e mission blasted off from southwest China on Dec. 2 on a Long March-3B carrier rocket.
China Central Television, which will broadcast live footage of the landing, said that the Chang'e will come to a stop from a speed of 1.7 kilometers (1.06 miles) per second during the sensitive landing process, which will last more than 10 minutes.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently. China has already said its eventual goals are to have a space station and put an astronaut on the moon.
China's military-backed space program has already made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the United States and Russia in space technology and experience.