Chang'e-3 Launch: China Plans To Land Unmanned Probe On Moon This Year

By Josh Lieberman on August 28, 2013 4:45 PM EDT

paranal moon
China plans to launch an unmanned lunar probe by the end of 2013. Above, the moon (and Venus) as seen from the Paranal Observatory in Chile. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

China plans to land an unmanned probe on the moon by the end of 2013, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. The Chang'e-3 probe, named after a goddess in Chinese myth who lives on the moon, is the third Chang'e probe to explore lunar space. Unmanned probes Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2, launched in 2007 and 2010, only orbited around the moon. Chang'e-3 will make a soft landing on the lunar surface, where it will transmit images back home as well as dig up test samples of the lunar surface.

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"The Chang'e-3 mission will be our country's first soft landing on an extraterrestrial body," said the director of the China National Space Administration, Ma Xingrui, according to Xinhua. "The technology is complicated and extremely difficult, with huge risks and great responsibilities."

Reports are vague regarding how China, a nation that launched its first manned space mission just 10 years ago, plans to execute the extraordinary maneuver of landing a probe on the surface of a celestial body. Xinhua simply says that the Chang'e-3 will "land on the moon after using a technique to slow its speed."

China recently tested out docking techniques earlier this year, when three Chinese astronauts orbited space for 15 days, practicing both automatic and manual docking onto the Chinese space station Tiangong 1.

While China has come to the space game many years after the current frontrunners, the United States and Russia, China's space program is shaping up to be powerful. In an article titled "China Is Winning the Space Race" in this month's Foreign Policy, John Hickman, a professor of political science at Berry College in Georgia, writes that China's recent three-man orbit, along with the pending launch of Chang'e-3, "are unmistakable warning signs that China may surpass the United States and Russia to become the world's preeminent spacefaring power."

China plans to have a permanent manned space station by 2020.

READ MORE:

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