An unmanned moon probe blasted off from ChinaFriday (Oct. 1) to begin the country's next phase of lunar exploration and setthe stage for even more ambitious spaceflights to come.
The Chinese moon probe, called Chang'e 2,launched at 6:59:57 a.m. EDT (1059:57 GMT) from the Xichang Space Center insouthwestern China's Sichuan province, according to state media reports. Itshould take about five days for the spacecraft to enter orbit around the moon.
The Chang'e 2 spacecraft soared into spaceatop one of China's Long March 3C rockets. It launched on Oct. 1, National Dayin China ? a holiday that commemorates the 61st anniversary of Communist rulein the country.
Chang'e 2 is the second step in China'sthree-phase Chang'e moon explorationprogram,which is named after China's mythical moon goddess. Chang'e 2 will test outtechnology and collect data on possible landing sites for the Chang'e 3spacecraft, which is scheduled to land on the moon in 2013, China's state-run XinhuaNews Agency has reported.
According to media reports, the mission has acost of about $134 million.
Chang'e 2 ?will eventually swoop down to anorbit just 9 miles (15 km) above the lunar surface to take high-resolutionpictures of landing areas for the Chang'e 3 mission, Xinhua has reported.
After snapping the photos, Chang'e 2 willretreat to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) to conduct a study of thelunar surface and dirt.
The Chang'e 1 probe launched in October 2007and conducted a 16-month moon observation mission, after which it crash-landed on thelunar surfaceby design, in March 2009.
The Chang'e missions are just one prong of China's burgeoning spaceprogram,which has seen three successful manned spaceflights, including the nation's first spacewalk on the most recentmission, the Shenzhou 7 flight of 2008.
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