ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 13

China, Japan in big race for moon

TOKYO, Saturday (AP) - Japan claims its project is the biggest since the Apollo missions put the first humans on the moon. China, hoping to pave the way for its own manned missions, says its probes will study the lunar surface to help plan a landing. But the big question right now is not about science -- it's who will get there first.

With Asia's biggest powers set to launch their first moon missions, possibly as early as next month, the countdown is on in the hottest space race since the Cold War. Japan's space agency said last week its SELENE lunar satellite is on track for a Sept. 13 launch, following years of delay as engineers struggled to fix a slew of mechanical problems. China, meanwhile, was rumored to be planning a September launch for its Chang'e 1 probe, but is being coy as to the exact date. Both sides say all systems are go.

The Chinese satellite and its Changzheng 3 rocket carrier have passed all tests, and construction of the launch site is finished, according to the National Space Administration's Web site. Last month, China's minister of defense technology told CCTV that all was ready for a launch ''by the end of the year.''

Officials have tried to play down the importance of beating each other off the pad, but their regional rivalry is never far below the surface. ''I don't want to make this an issue of win or lose. But I believe whoever launches first, Japan's mission is technologically superior,'' said Yasunori Motogawa, an executive at JAXA, Japan's space agency. ''We'll see which mission leads to the scientific breakthroughs.''

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