China landed a remotely piloted spacecraft on the moon on Saturday, state media reported, in the first such "soft-landing" since 1976, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union in managing to accomplish such a feat.
Scientists burst into applause as a computer generated image representing the spacecraft was shown landing on screens at a Beijing control centre, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed on Saturday, 12 days after Chang'e-3 blasted off on a Long March-3B carrier rocket.
Landing was the "most difficult" part of the mission, the Chinese Academy of Sciences had said in an online post written on the official Chang'e-3 Weibo page.
The probe, which was fitted with shock absorbers in the legs to cushion the impact of the landing, performed a "free-fall" for the crucial final few metres of descent.
"Chang'e-3 is completely relying on auto-control for descent, range and velocity measurements, finding the proper landing point, and free-falling," Chang'e-3's microblog said before the landing. "At this stage, the Earth base is effectively powerless, and there is only about 10 minutes to finish the process."
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After reaching the lunar surface, the module will release its rover, which can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200 metres per hour, according to the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.
The landing will mark the latest step in an ambitious space programme, which is seen as a symbol of China's rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once impoverished nation.
It has moved in lock step with its emergence as a major global economic and political power.
"The dream for lunar exploration once again lights up the China Dream," Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.
In its most recent manned space mission in June, three astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with an experimental space laboratory, part of Beijing's quest to build a working space station by 2020.
The official Xinhua news service reported that the spacecraft had touched down in the Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, after hovering over the surface for several minutes seeking an appropriate place to land.
A soft landing does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries. In 2007, China put another lunar probe in orbit around the moon, which then executed a controlled crash on to its surface.
China plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon.