China launched its first moon rover mission early Monday, state TV showed, the latest step in an ambitious space program seen as a symbol of its rising global stature.
The Chang'e-3 rocket carrying the Jade Rabbit rover blasted off around 1:30 am Sunday into the dark sky, the CCTV official broadcaster showed in live footage from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest of the country.
The probe is due to land on the moon in mid-December, in the world's third lunar rover mission following the United States and former Soviet Union decades ago.
The military-led program aims to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send someone to the moon.
The rover's name Jade Rabbit, or "Yutu", was chosen in an online poll of 3.4 million voters.
It comes from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as the pet of Chang'e, a lunar goddess who swallowed an immortality pill.