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Japan Launches Much-Delayed Lunar Orbiter


Almost 40 years after the U.S. moon missions, Japan's Space Agency has launched its much-delayed lunar orbiter. Liz Noh reports from Tokyo.

After three delays, and four years behind schedule, Japan's space agency launched the Kaguya lunar orbiter Friday morning from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

Its mission is to orbit the moon for one year, collecting data on the moon's composition, geography and below-ground structure.

Seiichi Sakamoto is a scientist at Japan's space agency, JAXA. He says the data will be used to study the origin and evolution of the moon.

"We can use that information to understand the early history of the earth because the moon is so nearby," he said. "So, such kind of event should be quite similar to the earth's history."

Sakamoto says mapping the entire surface of the moon could be used to create an Internet resource, like a "Google Moon". He says data collected by Kaguya should help scientists' efforts to eventually set up a solar power station on the moon.

Japan's space agency has touted the Kaguya mission as the largest lunar mission since Apollo, costing at least $280 million.

This is not Japan's first mission to the moon. In 1990, it launched a small probe completing a brief fly-by.

Kaguya is traveling toward the moon ahead of lunar launches planned by China and India this autumn. The U.S. space agency, NASA, says it will send up a lunar orbiter next year.

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