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China launches first lunar probe

RIA Novosti

24/10/2007 17:27

BEIJING, October 24 (RIA Novosti) - China successfully launched its Chang'e 1 orbiter, the country's first lunar probe, on Wednesday.

The Chang'e 1 satellite was launched on schedule at 6:05 p.m. local time (10:05 a.m. GMT) from the Xichang Launch Center in the country's southwest.

Over 2.5 thousand locals within 2.5 kilometers around the launch center and under the rocket's flight path were evacuated prior to the launch.

Some two thousand tourists, paying about $100 each, watched the launch from special observer platforms. Chinese TV and the Internet broadcast live the launch of the 1.4 billion Yuan ($187 million) Chang'e 1, named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon.

From November 5, when it is expected to enter lunar orbit, the satellite will revolve around the Moon for a year.

The satellite's flight trajectory is set to be altered 10 times during the mission, setting a new Chinese space record. The project is focused on analyzing the chemical and mineral structure of the lunar surface, and the first images of the Moon will be beamed back to China in the second half of November.

The launch is considered to be the first step in China's three-stage Moon exploration campaign, with the second step being the delivery of a Moon rover, and the third that of a recovery research vehicle to collect soil samples.

The ultimate aim of the Chinese project is to put a man on the Moon by 2020.

The launch of Chang'e is widely seen as part of an Asian space race with Japan and India. Earlier this month, a Japanese lunar probe entered lunar orbit, and India has plans for an unmanned mission to the Moon next April.

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