China launched its first lunar probe on Wednesday, the first step into its ambitious three-stage moon mission, marking a new milestone in the country's space exploration history.
The circumlunar satellite Chang'e-1 blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket at 6:05 PM from the No.3 launching tower in the Xichang Satellite Launch Center of southwesternSichuan Province.
Chinese space experts, technicians and other work staff, joined by experts from Japan, Germany and other countries as well as millions of domestic audience from across the country, were watching the launching process.
Chang'e-1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who is said to have flown to the moon, is expected to enter earth-moon transfer orbit on October 31 and arrive in the moon's orbit on November 5.
Flying to the moon is the nation's long cherished dream, as Chang'e has been worshipped as the "moon lady" for thousands of years. Legend has it that she floated toward the sky and finally landed on the moon after taking a bottle of elixir, where she became a goddess accompanied by a jade rabbit.
Chang'e-1 is so far the most sophisticated satellite China has ever built. They will maneuver it at least 10 times before it arrives in the moon's orbit. China's Shenzhou VI manned spacecraft was maneuvered three times by scientists in the flight control center.
As the satellite has to be maneuvered 10 times, the fuel that Chang'e-1 carries accounts for nearly half of the satellite's total weight, scientists said.
The satellite will relay the first picture of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific explorations of the moon for a year.
It will carry out a series of projects including acquiring 3-D images and analyzing the distribution of elements on the moon's surface.
(Xinhua News Agency October 24, 2007)