One of the most prominent talking points last month was the high-profile launch on October 24 of China's first moon orbiter. Named Chang'e-1, the satellite is expected to fulfill a number of scientific objectives, ranging from drawing a 3-D geological map of the moon to examining the lunar composition and monitoring space some 400,000 km beyond our own planet.
The launch of Chang'e-1, the name refers to a legendary Chinese fairy who made her home on the moon, has aroused immense interest and enthusiasm across the country. Newspapers have been filled with lengthy reports and stories, while millions of young and old Chinese are closely following the phased orbital transfers and space voyage of the satellite. In a radio program aired at the time of the launch, listeners were asked what they would do if they were allowed to land on the moon. Answers varied from hosting a wedding party on the lunar surface to starting a business venture in space, all in the hope of enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
China began its own aerospace project back in April 1970, when it first fired a self-developed satellite that flew for more than 20 days in a preset orbit. Since then, almost 100 manmade satellites have been launched by China for various scientific, communications and meteorological purposes, and the nation's space exploring attempts culminated in the return of two manned spacecraft, Shenzhou-5 and Shenzhou-6, respectively, in 2003 and 2005. China has now become one of the leading countries in the world in this field, with increasingly sophisticated aerospace technologies and research capabilities. This status is in line with China's pursuit of becoming a more innovative society, something that was particularly emphasized at the recently concluded 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Indeed, science and technology are paramount to China's modernization drive and the launch of this latest lunar orbiter has lit up the nation's hopes and will remain an ongoing source of inspiration.
Compared with the United States and Russia, China still lags behind in terms of space technologies, and is therefore unable to put a man on the moon in the short term. But the country is in the fortunate position of learning from the
experience of these giants, so that its scientists can forge ahead and avoid previous pitfalls.
With the successful launch of Chang'e-1, China has begun its lunar probe trilogy that will extend up to 2017: first circling the moon to collect relevant scientific data; then landing on the lunar surface to examine the topography and, finally making a return lunar voyage for more in-depth study. While we eagerly anticipate feedback from Chang'e-1 of more revealing facts about the moon, we also look forward to one day exploring other planets in our solar system and contributing to global space endeavors in a way that will help us better understand the universe we live in.