March 02, 2009, 8:36 AM — China's first lunar probe made a planned crash into the moon Sunday, completing the first phase of a lunar program partly meant to solidify Beijing’s status as a space power.
The planned crash by Chang’e I was an exercise paving the way for a "soft landing" by a future Chinese mission, the China National Space Administration said in a statement on its Web site.
The probe, named after a Chinese moon goddess and launched in 2007, collected data including China’s first full lunar map as technicians practiced sending it between orbit levels, the statement said, citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
The event follows China's first space walk last year. An astronaut waved a Chinese flag live on national television during the event.
China plans to launch the Chang’e II probe in 2010 or 2011 and put a lunar buggy on the moon, the official China Daily newspaper said.
The probe carrying the buggy will aim to land softly on the surface of the moon using thrusters, according to the space administration.
China will send a probe to bring samples back from the moon in the third phase of the program around 2017.
The China Daily reports that the nation is planning for a manned lunar landing by 2020.