BEIJING – China launched its first lunar probe Wednesday, the first step in an ambitious 10-year plan to send a rover to the moon and return it to earth.
State television showed pictures of the Chang’e 1 orbiter taking off with a trail of smoke from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province in southwestern China.
The launch comes just weeks after China’s regional rival Japan put a probe into orbit around the moon in a big leap forward for Asia’s undeclared space race. India is likely to join the regional rivalry soon, with plans to send its own lunar probe into space in April.
The Long March 3A rocket carrying the probe blasted off shortly after 6 p.m. (1000 GMT) after officials from the China National Space Administration said weather conditions were good for a lift off.
Several thousand people living within 1.5 miles of the launch center and under the rocket’s trajectory were evacuated two hours before the launch, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
More than 2,000 tourists were also on hand to watch the rocket soar into space after paying 800 yuan (around $106).