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China's Jade Rabbit takes great hop for mankind

Rover will start looking for moon carrots in mid-December

Jade Rabbit or Yutu lunar rover

China’s first lunar rover, dubbed Yutu or "Jade Rabbit", has finally left the hutch today as part of the Chang’e 3 mission to become the first Moon landing probe sent up by the People’s Republic.

Given the ground-breaking nature of the flight, several of the country’s biggest names in technology were there to lend their support.

The founders of Tencent, Sohu, Qihoo and Xiaomi – who between them have enough cash in the bank to finance a space mission of their own – posed for this pic in front of the Long March 3-B rocket (via @niubi).

Presumably Baidu’s Robin Li and Sina’s Charles Chao are behind the camera.

The rocket took off successfully from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province at 1.30 this morning and is now in transfer orbit en route to the Moon, according to Xinhua.

Chang’e 3 is expected to reach the Moon in mid-December where it will apparently carry out various geological surveying projects.

The mission forms the second stage of China’s lunar program and is a likely precursor to a fully manned landing in the future, although Beijing hasn’t released details of exactly when this might happen.

For the record, the lunar rover’s name is apparently a reference to a Chinese myth in which deity Chang’e swallows a magic pill and is carried up to the Moon, along with her pet rabbit Yutu. For all its bluster, China is still something of a newcomer to space exploration, with NASA’s focus now firmly set on Mars.

China rival India also seems to be eschewing the Moon for the Red Planet, having just announced its Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission is finally on the way to its destination. ®

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