Asian giants China, India dominate space program news

Dec. 2, 2013 at 12:43 AM
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BEIJING, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- China and India have taken big strides in space, with the former launching its first lunar probe and the latter catapulting a spacecraft toward Mars.

The two nuclear-armed Asian giants, who have come a long way since their brief border war in 1962, are both involved in impressive and extensive space research programs that have won international recognition.

On Monday, Chinese space scientists successfully launched their first Chang'e-3 lunar rover mission, carrying a landing module and a robot rover named Yutu, or Jade Rabbit.

A day earlier in India, the Indian Space Research Organization announced its Mars orbiter, dubbed "Mangalyaan," accomplished the critical task of getting out of Earth orbit and beginning its 300-day journey toward the Red Planet.

If successful, the unmanned spacecraft, which was launched Nov. 19, will orbit Mars in September. That would bring India in league with the United States, Europe and Russia, who have launched successful missions to Mars in the past.

China's lunar probe is expected to reach the moon in midmonth. It would be the first time a Chinese spacecraft has made a soft landing on the lunar surface and if successful, China will become the third country to do so after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Chinese scientists said the Chang'e-3 mission, the most complicated and difficult one ever attempted by China, represents technological breakthroughs.

"More than 80 percent of the technologies adopted in the mission are new," said Wu Zhijian of the National Defense's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry.

The rover will explore areas surrounding the lunar landing spot, he said.

"We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation," the director the Chinese space agency said.

Another space official said China's "target is deep space."

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported India's latest Mars orbiter achievement, and said Chinese space scientists look forward to cooperation with other countries, including their close neighbor India.

Indian space scientists said the health of the Mars orbiter remained normal and was currently in a perfect hyperbolic orbit, the Hindu newspaper reported.

If the orbiter reaches Mars, which will be known in about 10 months, India would join the ranks of the United States, Russia and Europe at the top of space exploration achievement ladder. The low-cost Indian Mars mission was begun last year and completed in 15 months at a cost of less than $75 million.

The Mangalyaan's mission is to gather data to help understand the martian weather systems and also search Mars for methane, which is part of the life process on Earth.

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