China displayed the first image of the moon captured by its Chang-e 1 lunar probe at a gala ceremony Monday, marking the formal start of the satellite's mission to document the lunar landscape.
Unveiling the image at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, Premier Wen Jiabao hailed it as a major step in "the Chinese race's 1,000-year-old dream" of exploring the moon.
China hopes the probe, launched late last month, will have surveyed the entire surface of the moon at least once by early next year.
The probe's launch closely followed the start of a similar mission by Japan, prompting speculation over a new space race in Asia. India plans to launch a lunar probe in April.
Chinese officials have however played down talk of such competition, saying Beijing wanted to use its program to work with other countries and hoped to join in building the international space station.
In 2003, China became only the third country in the world after the United States and Russia to send a human into orbit, following that up with a two-man mission in 2005.