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China Moon Probe Readied For Next Year Liftoff

China's unfolding spaceplans include that country's first foray into exploration of the Moon. AChang'e I lunar orbiter is nearing final construction, being readied forrocketing to the Moon in 2007.

Preparationsto launch Chang'e I--named after the Chinese goddess who flew to the Moon in apopular fairy tale--are to be completed by February for launch later next year,according to a November 29 report by China's Xinhua news agency.

Amongseveral tasks, the orbiter will provide 3D images of the Moon's surface, chartelements on the Moon, measure the thickness of the lunar soil, as well asmonitor the space environment between the Moon and Earth.

Chang'eI is based on China's Dongfanghong III telecommunication satellite platform.

Earlieraccounts from China had noted that Chang'e I is headed for an April liftoff.

Moon tunes

Lastmonth, Xinhua reported that Chang'e I would be filled with "Moon tunes"--songsselected by public vote and a panel of experts. The songs would be broadcast toEarth via the lunar orbiter.

Amajority of the tunes are Chinese folk songs, with "My Wonderful Hometown"receiving top votes, followed by "I Love China," "Singing Praises ofMotherland" and 27 others.

China's national anthemand "The East is Red"--broadcast from the country's first satellite of Earth backin 1970--will also be played from the Chang'e I.

Chang'eI is the first element of a multi-pronged lunar exploration program, the Xinhuareport noted.

TheMoon orbiter is to be followed in later years by a remote-controlled lunarrover that would perform experiments and send data back to Earth. In the thirdphase, an automated probe will be dispatched to the Moon that carries drillinggear to dig up lunar samples for return to Earth.

Thisthree-part robotic exploration of the Moon would be wrapped up by 2017. At thattime, China will consider a human mission to the Moon, the Xinhua news agencyreported.

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