China has launched its first spacecraft bound for the surface of the Moon. The Chang'e-3 mission will deploy a rover and conduct astronomical observations.This will be the first spacecraft from any nation to land on the Moon since 1976, breaking a long drought of touchdowns.

The mission is also another sign of China's growing influence in space.

Some reports in the US media have been panicked, as if awareness of China's space program has been absent from the general media in the past. This is despite the fact that China launched an astronaut more than a decade ago and has since launched two spacecraft to orbit the Moon.

A similar 'rude awakening' surfaced when India launched a spacecraft to Mars earlier this month. Like China, India has operated a highly successful space program for decades, but the world at large seemed unaware of it.

The technology to land on the Moon is another step in developing the latent capability to eventually land astronauts there. It will be well over a decade before China is ready to attempt such a mission, but they are making steady progress.

Some American pundits deny that China has any interest in going there, a point of view that is convenient from an American perspective. I would draw attention to the logo of the China Lunar Exploration Program (left), the body responsible for coordinating China's Moon missions. The centre of this logo features two Moon-booted human footprints.