BEIJING, Nov 5 (Reuters) A Chinese lunar obiter entered the moon's orbit today, 12 days after takeoff, a feat hailed as a new milestone in China's exploration of space. Chang'e One was given instructions to slow down by mission control when the probe was 200 km from the moon, so it could be captured by the moon's gravity, Xinhua news agency said.
Chang'e One is scheduled to scan the lunar surface from Wednesday in preparation for an unmanned moon vehicle planned for 2012 and a manned landing within 15 years.
Sun Laiyan, head of the China National Space Administration, hailed the probe as a new milestone in China's space programme.
''We are all very excited. The orbiter has completed all its moves perfectly...This marks the first step in exploring deeper space,'' Sun told state television.
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 SSC1153