The 300lb Jade Rabbit rover separated from the much larger landing vehicle early yesterday, about seven hours after the unmanned Chang'e 3 space probe touched down on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon.
The rover and lander are expected to take photos of each other and start their own scientific explorations. The six-wheeled rover will survey the moon's geological structure and surface and look for natural resources for three months, while the lander will carry out scientific explorations at the landing site for one year.
The mission marks the next stage in an ambitious space programme that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon. China's space plans are an enormous source of pride for the country, the third to carry out a lunar soft landing -which does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries - after the US and the former Soviet Union. The last one was by the Soviet Union in 1976.
Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane's Space Systems and Industry, said: "It's still a significant technological challenge to land on another world especially somewhere like the moon, which doesn't have an atmosphere so you can't use parachutes."