China has launched its first mission to the Moon – the first step towards putting a man on the surface before 2020. Their 2.3-ton robot probe, Chang’e 1, was fired into space on 24 October from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in south-western China, on top of a Long March 3A rocket.
The Chinese, who have already put three astronauts into Earth orbit, may be keen to beat the Americans back to our natural satellite.
They have also fired the starting pistol for a new Asian space race – Japan put a lunar probe in orbit earlier this month and India plans a mission next year.
Chang’e 1, named after a Chinese goddess who flew to the Moon, will spend a year exploring the world. It will spend a year flying just 125 miles above the lunar surface, measuring the depth of the soil and what it is made of.
Europe is backing the mission by providing vital communications support via spacecraft and tracking stations on this side of the Earth.
As Skymania News has previously reported, the UK is set to become directly involved with China on a follow-up mission to land on the Moon in 2012. Our scientists have already signed co-operation agreements which could lead to putting British experiments on a robot lander, to be called Chang’e 2.
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