"The full success of our country's first lunar exploration mission is helping to turn the Chinese nation's 1,000-year old dream of reaching the moon a reality," Wen said.

"The Chinese nation is fully able to stand tall among the world's ranks of advanced nations."

The lunar probe's journey has been accompanied by a stream of patriotic propaganda.

Space powers

The ruling Communist Party is committed to clambering into the select ranks of global space powers, even as hundreds of millions of Chinese struggle in rural hardship.

"The Chinese nation is fully able to stand tall among the world's ranks of advanced nations"

Wen Jiabao, Chinese premier
Other Asian powers have also announced plans to reach the moon.

The timing of the probe's launch, closely following the start of a similar mission by Japan, has prompted speculation over a new space race in Asia.

India also plans to launch a lunar probe in April.

Fears of potential military rivalry in space with the United States have mounted since China blew up one of its own weather satellites using a ground-based missile in January.

However, Chinese officials have played down talk of such competition saying Beijing wants to use its programme to work with other countries and hoped to join in building the international space station.

Moon survey

China hopes the probe, launched late last month, will have surveyed the entire surface of the moon at least once by early next year.

In 2003, it became only the third country,after the former Soviet Union and the United States, to put a man into space using its own rocket.

It then sent two astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI rocket in October 2005.

China plans to launch its third manned rocket, Shenzhou VII, into space in October 2008, a Shanghai paper has said.