Nightly News   |  December 14, 2013

China lands on the moon

China makes history as the third nation to have a successful moon landing. It was the first since 1976. While the Asian nation still lags behind the U.S. in space technology, it’s aiming to prove it’s technology powerhouse. NBC’s Ian Williams reports.

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>>> china made history today, becoming just the third member of an exclusive club of nations that has successfully landed on the moon. the unmanned spacecraft and a rover it carried will conduct experiments and search for natural resources . we get more tonight from nbc's ian williams in beijing.

>> reporter: the landing was reported live on state television . images of the approaching moon surface taken from the space probe shown alongside animations of the touchdown. then the celebrations at mission control as china became the third country after the u.s. and former soviet union to carry out a soft lunar landing . the last was in 1976 .

>> they want to show they're among the big boys . this mission is the toughest one and the most risky one they've ever tried before to prove that.

>> reporter: the landing craft carried the rover. it will explore the moon's surface, searching for natural resources . the mission blasted off nearly two weeks ago. the most ambitious yet in a space program china sees as a symbol of its rising global stature. it's become a corner stone of every child's science education here and is an enormous source of national pride . next up, most likely, will be a manned mission to the moon.

>> that's one small step for man --

>> reporter: it's been nearly 45 years since neil armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon .

>> and liftoff. the final liftoff of atlantis.

>> reporter: with the end of the space shuttle program , nasa's no longer able to launch manned missions of its own. its priorities are elsewhere. for all the enthusiasm, china still lags far behind the u.s. and russia in space technology and experience. but it's advancing fast.

>> sooner or later , we will have a permanent moon base over there.

>> reporter: the base is already being built. there's a museum model. but it's a vision and ambition that's driving china's moon adventure. ian williams , nbc news, beijing.