From Tokyo With Love: Japan Launches 1st Lunar Probe

Mission to rival Apollo program
By Jonas Oransky,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 14, 2007 4:00 PM CDT
A domestically-developed H2-A rocket, carrying a lunar orbiter, lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture (State), southern Japan, Friday morning, Sept. 14, 2007....   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Japan began its first trip to the moon today, launching a lunar probe that will spend a year orbiting Earth’s natural satellite. In what the Japanese call the most complex moon mission since America’s famous Apollo program, Selene will study the body’s origin and evolution, the BBC reports.

Four years behind schedule, the probe is nicknamed Kaguya after a Japanese folk story princess who traveled to the moon. It’s a sensitive moment, says the LA Times: The launch marks a watershed in the extraterrestrial competition with China, whose own moon mission begins next month. Japan hopes for eventual manned spaceflight, but the Chinese promise a lunar rover in the near term.