Thirty-seven years after the USSR made the most recent lunar landing with an unmanned spacecraft, China has managed to land its own probe - Chang E 3 - on the Moon, launching a new era in lunar exploration after a long hiatus since the great milestones of the 1960s and 1970s.

This is the third mission for China's Chang E lunar probe program, named in honor of a goddess that Oriental legend says lives on the Moon.

The spacecraft touched down on the lunar surface gently, almost without raising any lunar dust, at 9:12 p.m. Beijing time on Saturday, 12 days after lifting off from China's Xichang space base.

The landing maneuver was undertaken during the spacecraft's closest orbital approach to the lunar surface - just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) - over the past few days with the probe braking itself from its original speed of 1.7 kilometers per second (1.05 miles per second).

Following a parabolic landing trajectory, the spacecraft eventually descended straight down onto the lunar surface landing in the region known as the Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, a broad basaltic lava plain that has never before been explored from the ground.

The achievement makes China the third country - after the United States and the Soviet Union - to make a controlled landing on the Moon, and the feat constitutes Beijing's first-ever landing on an extraterrestrial object.

Prior to Chang E's touchdown, the most recent soft landing of a space probe on the Moon had occurred on Aug. 18, 1976, when the Soviet Union's Luna 24 landed there. EFE