Riding atop a modified Long March 3B rocket, China's Chang'e 3 moon lander and its rover Yutu headed toward the moon at 1:30 a.m. Monday local time from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the country's Sichuan province. It was 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday at launch time.
If the probe continues on track, Chang'e 3 will land on the lunar surface by mid-December, becoming the first spacecraft to ease down onto the lunar surface in 37 years. The most recent soft landing on the moon was executed during the former Soviet Union's robotic Luna 24 sample return mission in 1976. [Photos: China's Chang'e 3 Mission Blasts Off]
Shortly after the Chang'e 3 spacecraft separated from its rocket, launch officials declared the liftoff a success.
"The Chang'e probe on its way to the moon, of course, is a symbol of China's national prowess," said Zhang Zhenzhong, director of China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center, according to a translation by state-run CCTV. "Let's all work together ... to make more efforts in space exploration and realize the Chinese dream."