China probe pulls on brake, enters moon's orbit

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BEIJING, Nov 5 (Reuters) China's first lunar obiter reached a critical point on its journey today when it pulled on the brake and entered the moon's orbit, state media said.

Chang'e One was given instructions to slow down by the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre at around 0315 GMT, when the probe was 200 km away from the moon, so it could be captured by the moon's gravity.

''The speed of Chang'e One reached 2.4 km per second when it arrived at perilune (closest to the moon),'' space official Wang Yejun was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Chang'e One is scheduled to scan the lunar surface in preparation for an unmanned moon vehicle planned for 2012 and a manned landing within 15 years.

In 2003, China became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket. In October 2005, it sent two men into orbit and plans a space walk by 2008.

But China's space plans have faced increasing international scrutiny. Fears of a potential space arms race with the United States and other powers have mounted since it blew up one of its own weather satellites using a ground-based missile in January.

Japan plans to launch its first mission to land a spacecraft on the moon in the next decade -- a feat so far achieved only by the former Soviet Union and the United States.

The Chang'e One, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket on Oct.

24 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

REUTERS SZ KN0923

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