Following the successful launch of the Chang'e 1 satellite in 2007, Chang'e 2 was lifted off by a Long March 3 carrier rocket on October 1, marking the beginning of the second phase of China's lunar probe project.
After nearly 112 hours of flight toward the Moon, Chang'e 2 successfully conducted three near-Moon brakings and entered its working orbit, 100 km above the Moon's surface. According to the previous plan, instruments that Chang'e 2 carries are starting to work gradually.
Chang'e factors prominently in ancient Chinese mythology. After eating a pill that grants eternal life, Chang'e floats to the Moon, where she then lives. The story shows the interest that ancient Chinese people had in outer space. Recently, Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 have helped the nation take a big step toward turning that dream into reality. A lunar probe is also the first step toward China's participation in international outer space exploration for peaceful purposes.
In China's three-phase lunar probe mission, a soft Moon landing and launch of a Moon rover will be completed around 2012, and another rover will land on the Moon and return to Earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.
Along with the advancement of the lunar probe project, construction of China's deep-space probe network is accelerating. The plan is to complete its part in China by 2012 and the overseas part by 2016. The network will support the third stage of the lunar probe project, which involves the return of Chang'e satellites.
Although it had a late start, China's space technologies have developed rapidly. It became the fifth country in the world to independently manufacture and launch manmade satellites, when Dongfanghong 1 went into space on April 24, 1970. In October 2003, China successfully launched and recovered the Shenzhou-5 manned spacecraft and became the third country with the technology for manned spaceflight. On October 24, 2007, China took the first step toward deep-space exploration with the successful launch of Chang'e 1. China's space scientists are outstanding and young. The average age of the designers for the country's manned spaceflight and lunar probe projects is just over 30. Through continuous learning and practice, they are becoming the mainstay for China's march toward having the world's leading space technologies.
China is also actively developing Mars exploration technologies and is expected to start a joint Mars exploration program in 2011 in cooperation with Russia. By the end of next year, the first Chinese Mars probe is scheduled to be launched. In the future, China will also explore Venus and other planets in the solar system and their satellites.