China's first lunar probe Chang'e I blasts off from its launch pad in Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, October 24, 2007. [Xinhua]
China launched its first lunar probe on Wednesday, first step into its three-stage moon mission, marking a new milestone in the country's space exploration history.
The Chang'e I blasted off at about 6:05 pm on a Long March 3A carrier rocket from the No. 3 launching tower in the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Chinese space experts, technicians and other work staff, joined by experts from Japan, Germany and other countries as well as millions of domestic audience from across the country, were watching the launching process.
The circumlunar satellite, named after a legendary Chinese fairy who is said to have flown to the moon, is expected to enter the Earth-moon transfer orbit on October 31 and arrive in the moon's orbit on November 5.
The satellite will relay the first pictures of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific exploration for a year.
As the launch began Wednesday evening, the attention of the whole country has turned to the small town in Southwest China.
The local television station has reported that at least 1,000 journalists have flocked to the town.
"Journalists can be seen everywhere, carrying video cameras or long lens. You can't miss them," said a local TV reporter.
Local hotels, taxi drivers and travel agencies are all benefiting from the big event, regarded as the third milestone in China's space achievements after manned flights in 2003 and 2005.