China appears to be pulling away from the pack in Asia's space race after announcing plans to launch its second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, on October 1--China's National Day.
If the mission succeeds, it will put China another step ahead of India in the race to become the second nation, after the United States, to land an astronaut on the moon.
China has pledged to do that by 2025 and India by 2020--setting up a 21st Century Asian version of the Cold War space race between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
Chang'e-2 will carry a laser altimeter and a high-resolution 3-D camera to find a landing spot for another probe, Chang'e-3, which is designed to make China's first unmanned landing on the moon in 2013.
The probe has already been installed on a Long March 3C launch vehicle and underwent pre-launch drills on Saturday at Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China's western province of Sichuan, according to state media reports.
Ouyang Ziyuan, the chief scientist of China's lunar exploration team, was quotedby the Global Times newspaper saying the countdown had begun and the only remaining task was to add fuel to the rocket.
The Chang'e program, named after a mythical Chinese goddesswho flew to the moon, embodies China's aspirations to outstrip Asian rivals and contend with the U.S. as a global superpower.
The U.S. is the only country to have achieved manned lunar missions, making six trips from 1969 to 1972, but President Obama has cut plans for further manned missions. The Soviet Union canceled its program after a string of failures.
China became the world's third nation to put a man in space independently -- after the United States and Russia â ' when Yang Liwei piloted the one-man Shenzhou-5 space mission in 2003.
China then launched Chang'e-1, which orbited the moon and took high-resolution pictures of the lunar surface, in October 2007.
In September 2008, a Chinese astronaut â ' also known as a 'taikonaut' after 'taikong,' the Mandarin word for space --carried out China's first space walk.
China also hopes to bring a moon rock sample back to earth in 2017, and ultimately to build an observatory on the surface of the moon, according to state media.
India is not far behind, having launched its first unmanned lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, in 2008, and drawn up plans to launch a second one, Chandrayaan-2, next year.
India got the jump on China when Chandrayaan-1fired a moon impact probe, carrying an Indian tricolor national flag, down to the lunar surface in October 2008.
The Indian Space Research Organization has said it hopes to launch India's first manned space flight by 2014, and its first manned lunar mission by 2020.
Japan, meanwhile, launched its first lunar satellite in June last year, and announced a plan this year to send a robot to the moon in five years and to construct an unmanned base there in 10 years.
印度空间研究组织(Indian Space Research Organization)表示，希望2014年前完成印度首次载人太空飞行，2020年前实现首次载人登月。