China moon landing

CCTV broadcasts an image, right, of China's first lunar rover after it landed on the moon. (CCTV / AFP/ Getty Images / December 14, 2013)

BEIJING -- China on Saturday successfully carried out the world's first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades.

State-run China Central Television showed a computer-generated image of the Chang'e 3 lander's path as it approached the surface of the moon, explaining that for a 12-minute landing period it would have no contact with Earth. As it was just hundreds of yards away, the lander's camera broadcast images of the moon's surface.

The Chang'e 3's solar panels, which are used to generate power, opened soon after Saturday evening's landing. The Chang'e 3 will set up antennas that will transmit the first pictures back to Earth.

The lander carries a moon rover called “Jade Rabbit” that was expected to separate from the lander eight hours later and embark on a three-month scientific exploration.

China is the third country to carry out a lunar soft landing after the United States and the former Soviet Union. The last one was by the Soviet Union in 1976.

China's ambitious space program is an enormous source of pride for the country, which plans to eventually land people on the moon.