An unmanned moon probe blasted off from China Friday (Oct. 1) to begin the country's next phase of lunar exploration and set the 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 in southwestern China's Sichuan province, according to state media reports. It should take about five days for the spacecraft to enter orbit around the moon.
The Chang'e 2 spacecraft soared into space atop one of China's Long March 3C rockets. It launched on Oct. 1, National Day in China a holiday that commemorates the 61st anniversary of Communist rule in the country.
Chang'e 2 is the second step in China's three-phase Chang'e moon exploration program, which is named after China's mythical moon goddess. Chang'e 2 will test out technology and collect data on possible landing sites for the Chang'e 3 spacecraft, which is scheduled to land on the moon in 2013, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency has reported.
According to media reports, the mission has a cost of about $134 million.
Chang'e 2 will eventually swoop down to an orbit just 9 miles (15 km) above the lunar surface to take high-resolution pictures of landing areas for the Chang'e 3 mission, Xinhua has reported.
After snapping the photos, Chang'e 2 will retreat to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) to conduct a study of the lunar surface and dirt.
The Chang'e 1 probe launched in October 2007 and conducted a 16-month moon observation mission, after which it crash-landed on the lunar surface by design, in March 2009.
The Chang'e missions are just one prong of China's burgeoning space program, which has seen three successful manned spaceflights, including the nation's first spacewalk on the most recent mission, the Shenzhou 7 flight of 2008.
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