China's robotic Chang'e 3 mission, reportedly slated to blast off toward the end of 2013, marks a big step forward in the nation's lunar exploration program. Chang'e 3 will become China's first craft to attempt a soft landing and rover deployment on the surface of the moon.

China’s multi-phase moon venture began with the orbiters Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2, which launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Now Chinese space program officials are ready to shift to phase two.

Meanwhile, the nation's manned spaceflight program continues to move forward. Three "taikonauts" arrived at China's Tiangong 1 space module on June 13, beginning a 12-day stint aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The three crewmembers are slated to spend a total of 15 days in orbit, which would make their Shenzhou 10 mission the longest manned spaceflight in China's history.