China will launch its first ever moon rover early next month, Chinese state media reported Tuesday. The vehicle will be named "Jade Rabbit" in a nod to Chinese folklore.
The name derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a white rabbit that lives on the moon as the pet of Chang'e, a lunar goddess who swallowed an immortality pill.
The rocket carrying the probe will be launched in early December, China's official Xinhua news agency said, citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
China has previously sent two probes to orbit the moon, but this will be the first to roam the surface.
Beijing sees its military-run space program as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might.
It has ambitious plans to create a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon, but its technology and expertise currently lag behind the United States and Russia.
China showed off a model of the gold-colored moon rover, with six wheels and wing-like solar panels earlier this month. The vehicle can climb inclines of up to 30 degrees and travel up to 200 yards per hour, its designers said.
The name Jade Rabbit was chosen in an online poll that drew responses from 3.4 million people, according to Xinhua. References to a moon rabbit in Chinese folklore date back to the Warring States period, which ended in 221 B.C.
Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the moon rover project, told Xinhua that the ancient beliefs had their origins in the marks left by impacts on the lunar landscape.
"There are several black spots on the moon's surface. Our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees and a jade rabbit," he said.
Chinese social media users welcomed the name on Tuesday.
"I look forward to the jade rabbit visiting the moon palace, go Chinese aerospace!" wrote one poster on Sina Weibo, a service similar to Twitter.
China's first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, was launched in 2007.
The next, Chang'e-2, began its journey three years later and after orbiting the moon was sent on a mission into deep space to monitor an asteroid.
That probe is "expected to travel as far as 300 million kilometers (186 million miles) from Earth, the longest voyage of any Chinese spacecraft," a state official told Xinhua.