BEIJING -- China on Friday celebrated 61 years of communist rule with the launch of its second lunar probe — the next step in its ambitious program to become the second country to put a man on the moon.A Long March 3C rocket carrying the Chang'e-2, which is due to go into orbit within 15 kilometers (nine miles) of the moon, blasted off from the launch centre in Xichang in the southwestern province of Sichuan, state media said.
China launches second probe to the moon
China Central Television briefly showed images of the rocket blasting off into the night sky — a few seconds after lift-off — before shifting to scenes inside the launch centre and computerized models of the rocket's flight.
The lunar probe will conduct various tests over a six-month period in preparation for the expected launch in 2013 of the Chang'e-3, which China hopes will be its first unmanned landing on the moon, state media has reported.
“Chang'e-2 lays a foundation for the soft-landing on the moon and the further exploration of outer space,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted the chief designer of China's lunar orbiter project, Wu Weiren, as saying.
“It travels faster and closer to the moon, and it will capture clear pictures.”
The probe successfully entered its trans-lunar orbit, Xinhua said. It will take five days for the Chang'e-2 to arrive at its lunar orbit.
It will first circle the moon at a distance of 100 kilometers, before hopefully dropping into orbit 15 kilometers from the moon's surface.
The Chang'e program, named after a mythical Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, is seen as an effort to put China's space exploration program on a par with those of the United States and Russia.
The first lunar probe, launched in October 2007, was in orbit for 16 months.
Beijing hopes to bring a moon rock sample back to earth in 2017, with a manned mission penciled in for around 2020, according to state media.
The launch day was symbolic as it is China's National Day, which marks Mao Zedong's proclamation of the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
People arrived early to watch the take-off, an employee at the launch site's tourism department, who refused to be named, told AFP.