Science & Environment

China launches Moon mission

A Chinese rocket carrying a probe destined for the Moon has blasted into space.

A Long March 3C rocket with the Chang'e-2 probe took off from Xichang launch centre at about 1100 GMT.

The rocket will shoot the craft into the trans-lunar orbit, after which the satellite is expected to reach the Moon in about five days.

Chang'e-2 will be used to test key technologies and collect data for future landings.

Image caption The latest launch, to test key technologies and gather data, is China's second lunar mission

China says it will send a rover on its next mission, and it also has ambitions to put humans on the surface of the lunar body at some future date.

The Xinhua News Agency said Chang'e-2 would circle just 15km (nine miles) above the rocky terrain in order to take photographs of possible landing locations.

It is China's second lunar probe - the first was launched in 2007. The craft stayed in space for 16 months before being intentionally crashed on to the Moon's surface.

China launched its first manned flight into low-Earth orbit in 2003; and two more followed, with the most recent one in 2008.

So far, only three countries have managed to independently send humans into space: China, Russia and the US.

In 2008, a Chinese astronaut, fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang, performed a spacewalk - the first in his country's history.

He stayed outside the Shenzhou-7 capsule for 15 minutes; the exercise was seen as key to China's ambition to build an orbiting station in the near future.

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