( AFP ) - China's maiden lunar probe successfully entered the moon's orbit on Monday, officials said, a critical step in its year-long mission to photograph and map the surface of the celestial body.
"We have basically succeeded in entering lunar orbit," Wang Yejun, head mission engineer said on China Central Television.
"We still need to go through all the data and ensure that the satellite arrived in lunar orbit in good shape."
Chang'e I blasted off from China on October 24, signalling the rising nation's space ambitions and Beijing's participation in a renewed race to explore the moon with rivals Japan and India.
In August Japan launched its first lunar probe, while India has a planned mission for next year.
In Monday's critical manpoeuvre, Chang'e I fired retro-rockets for 22 minutes, slowing it as it approached 200 kilometers ( 124 miles) of the moon's surface, allowing it to be sucked into lunar orbit by the body's gravitational pull.
Chang-e I will orbit the moon for about a year, photographing and mapping the lunar surface, but its first pictures are not expected to be transmitted until late this month.
The probe, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, is the first stage of China's lunar programme which includes landing an unmanned rover on the surface by 2012 and a manned mission by around 2020.
China successfully launched astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit in 2003, making it the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a man in space.