China has taken another ‘giant leap’ towards fulfilling its long cherished desire to be respected as a global space power, as it successfully completed the re-entry and landing of an unmanned space probe. Its lunar orbiter called “Xiaofei” or the “Little Flyer” which was launched eight days ago traveled more than 520,000 miles in its sojourn around the moon before it started its re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere at 6.13 am on Saturday, and later landed safely in Inner Mongolia, reported the state media.

 

Chinese lunar orbiter “Xiaofei” or Little Flyer landing safely in Mongolia

China has thus become the third country in the world to have done this successfully- after the USA and the former Soviet Union had done that almost four decades back.

The mission to the Moon was “another step forward for China’s ambition that could eventually land a Chinese citizen there,” Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said. It was “the world’s first mission to the Moon and back for some 40 years”.

The orbiter has taken some absolutely incredible pictures of the Earth and the moon together, as it traversed around the moon.

Though Beijing has repeated from time to time that it is not competing with other nations, there is little doubt that a highly charged race is already underway, with the Chinese scientists trying hard to beat the Indians at it. “Few countries can rival China’s space program although China never intended to participate in any ‘space race,’” Xinhua had claimed.

Its not-being-in-the-race remarks notwithstanding, there has been no doubt that the Chinese are indeed trying to beat their neighbor after the Indians successfully sent a spacecraft into Mars’ orbit in September. China’s earlier attempt at doing so had ended in a disaster.

China had become the first country in the world to ‘soft-land” on the moon almost forty years back. It had used a six wheeled cart named the “Yutu” or the “Jade Rabbit” to collect soil samples and click photographs on the lunar surface. Yutu, however, had run into trouble a short while after it reached the lunar surface and is not performing to its full potential at present.

Wu Yanhua, vice director of China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, said the successful test mission has gathered a lot of experimental data and laid a solid foundation for future missions. This eight day mission is a test run for the final leg of China’s ambitious three step lunar program- orbiting, landing and finally returning.

 

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