October 1, 2010

China Launches Second Lunar Probe

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched a second lunar exploration probe on Friday, bringing their country's emerging space program one step closer to fulfilling their goal of placing a man on the moon.

According to various media reports, the Chang'e-2 orbiter launched at 1100 GMT from Xichang, a location in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

"China Central Television briefly showed images of the rocket blasting off into the night sky--a few seconds after lift-off--before shifting to scenes inside the launch centre and computerized models of the rocket's flight," Susan Stumme of the AFP reported on Friday.

As part of its six month mission, the Chang'e-2 will pass within 10 miles of the moon's surface in order to test the technology required for an unmanned lunar landing, which is currently scheduled to occur sometime around 2012 or 2013.

China was the third country to successfully send a man into space on board a self-developed vehicle, doing so in 2003. Two years later, the CNSA sent two men into orbit, and in September 2008, they successfully completed a space walk, with an astronaut floating outside of a vehicle in orbit.

Beijing officials are currently eyeing a manned mission to the moon. That mission could take place by 2017, according to the Associated Press (AP), though Reuters cites Chinese state media as reporting that the manned flight might not occur for another 15 to 20 years.

"Chang'e-2 lays a foundation for the soft-landing on the moon and the further exploration of outer space," the official Xinhua news agency quoted the chief designer of China's lunar orbiter project, Wu Weiren, as saying, according to Stumme. "It travels faster and closer to the moon, and it will capture clear pictures."

Currently, only the United States has completed manned lunar missions, completing six trips to the moon between 1969 and 1972. In addition to China, India's space program is also working towards a manned moon flight. That country successfully launched a lunar probe in 2008, and according to AFP, they are hoping to put a man on the moon in 2016.


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