02/12/2013 06:17 GMT | Updated 01/02/2014 05:59 GMT

China Launches First Mission To Land On The Moon (PICTURES)

China has launched its first-ever mission to land on the Moon.

The unmanned Chang'3 3 lander and the Yutu rover lifted off atop a Long March 3D rocket early on Monday morning, local time, from the Xichang launch centre in Sichuan province.

China aims to land the craft on the Moon by mid-December, becoming the first man-made object to safely land on our only natural satellite for 37 years. Using landing rockets the craft will hover about 100m from the surface, before picking a good landing spot using automated systems, and slowly descending.

The last craft to land on the Moon was the Luna 24 robot, sent by the Soviet Union in 1976.

"The Chang'e probe on its way to the moon, of course, is a symbol of China's national prowess," said Zhang Zhenzhoung, director of China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

"Let's all work together ... to make more efforts in space exploration and realize the Chinese dream."

The name of the Yutu lander translates roughly as "Jade Rabbit", and was selected by a public vote with 3.5 million global participants. It should have a lifespan of at least three months, and aims principally to study the structure of the moon with a powerful radar.