China launches space probe to the moon

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Computer model of the Chang'e 1 spacecraft.
Image: NASA.

The People's Republic of China today launched its first moon orbiter as part of the country's lunar exploration program.

At 18:05 hours local time (10:05 UTC) the rocket Chang'e 1 lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China. The name of the probe refers to the Chinese goddess of the moon.

The state television network broadcast live footage of the countdown and launch, which took place in the presence of Chinese officials and some 2,000 Chinese who paid around US$100 to attend the event, but without any international press.

The 2350 kg probe is expected to enter a lunar orbit on November 5. On its year-long mission, Chang'e 1 will obtain three dimensional images of the Moon's surface and gather information related to the chemical and physical properties of the lunar soil. It will do so circulating at about 200 kilometers above the lunar surface. On its way to the Moon the spacecraft will register data regarding the solar winds, or space weather. It will also broadcast 30 patriotic Chinese songs when orbiting the Moon.

The officially-Communist nation which hosts next year's Olympics hopes to put a taikonaut on the moon in ten to 15 years. Last month, Japan launched a lunar probe while India hopes to achieve the same next April. In 2003, China used one of their own rockets to get the astronaut Yang Liwei into space. Yang told the Xinhua News Agency last week that once China has a manned space station, he and his fellow taikonauts could form a new branch of the Communist Party in space.

Last January, China used a rocket to blow up one of its own satellites, sparking fears from the United States and other countries that China might have a military agenda in space, besides the problems of space pollution and danger to other satellites the explosion caused. China says the goals of its space program are scientific and peaceful.


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