China on Friday launched a probe to collect samples from the far side of the moon, a world first as Beijing pushes ahead with an ambitious program that aims to send a crewed lunar mission by 2030.

A rocket carrying the Chang'e-6 lunar probe blasted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province just before 5:30 pm, journalists near the site said.

Heavy rain engulfed the site just minutes before the launch began, they said, with hundreds of onlookers gathered nearby to witness the latest leap for China's decadeslong space program.