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Chinese lunar orbiter on its way

Media trumpets Chang'e One mission

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China this morning sucessfully sent on its way the Chang'e One lunar orbiter from the southwestern province of Sichuan, amid much patriotic trumpeting of the country's technological prowess.

According to Reuters, the 10.05 GMT launch of the 2,300kg orbiter atop a Long March 3A rocket was watched by thousands of space enthusiasts and tourists who'd stumped between 800 to 1,000 yuan (£48-£63) to enjoy the spectacle from viewing platforms at the Xichang Centre. Thousands of less well-off locals living within 2.5km of the launch site were evacuated "as standard procedure".

Chinese TV carried "more-or-less" live images of the blast-off, and the Sina website quickly declared: "Without a doubt, the launch of the Chang'e One will again show the world that Chinese people have the willpower, confidence and ability to constantly scale the heights of science and technology."

One female spectator chipped in with: "This is our first probe to the Moon, and it will be a symbolic event. I feel this is very important for us."

While Chinese patriotic space zeal has evidently been stirred by Chang'e One - named after a mythical Chinese goddess who winged it to the Moon - the chief commander of the orbiter project, Luan Enjie, stressed today: "China will not be involved in a Moon race with any other country and in any form."

Despite this, China has already announced its intention to send manned missions to the Moon with a view to mining helium. While the date for a human jaunt on the lunar surface has been knocked back from 2017 to 2024, the country is investing heavily in its space programme, including the construction of a fourth space port on the southern island of Hainan. ®

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