China Moon Probe
A villager plows a field as the launch pad housing China's first lunar orbiter, the Chang'e I, is seen at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang.
updated 10/22/2007 9:46:53 PM ET 2007-10-23T01:46:53

China will launch its first lunar probe this week, an official said Monday — weeks after regional rival Japan put one in high orbit over the moon in a big leap forward in Asia's undeclared space race.

The rivalry is likely to be joined soon by India, which plans to send its own lunar probe into space in April.

The launch window for China's Chang'e 1 orbiter has been set for Wednesday through Friday, with the prime time being 6 p.m. (6 a.m. EDT) Wednesday, said Li Guoping, a spokesman for the China National Space Administration.

"The orbiting of the moon is a high-tech project of self-innovation," Li told reporters. "It will set the technological foundation for the development of China's space exploration."

The Chang'e 1 — named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon — would be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province in southwestern China, Li said.

Pre-launch inspections have been completed and "they fully fulfill the technical requirements," he said, reading from a statement. He did not take questions.

The Chang'e will orbit the Earth while technical adjustments are made, and by Nov. 5, it will enter the moon's orbit, Li said.

The goal is to analyze the chemical and mineral composition of the lunar surface, he said, adding that it will use stereo cameras and X-ray spectrometers to map three-dimensional images of the surface and study the moon's dust.

It will transmit its first photo back to China in the second half of November. "Then it will work for one year of scientific exploration," Li said.

Slideshow: Month in Space: January 2014 China sent shock waves through the region in 2003, when it became the first Asian country to put its own astronauts into space. This year, China also blasted an old satellite into oblivion with a land-based anti-satellite missile, the first such test ever conducted by any nation, including the United States and Russia.

"The mission has a very strong scientific emphasis," said Sun Kwok, professor of physics and dean of science at the University of Hong Kong. "It's not just about technology. It's more than just launching a satellite, it's more than putting the first satellite in orbit."

"It's very good for China being a major power," said Kwok, who is on an advisory panel of Chinese scientists who have been invited to help with data analysis on the Chang'e's findings. "It shows that China is moving more and more into the international space community."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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