The Chang'e 1 is orbiting the moon, as expected

China's first lunar orbiter successfully entered the moon's orbit after blasting off from Earth just 12 days ago, Chinese space officials confirmed.  The Chang'e 1 is the first official step of a three-stage exploration campaign which China hopes to further accelerate by launching a moon rover and astronaut to the moon over the next 20 years.

The lunar probe was given directions to slow down by firing its retro-rockets once it was almost 200 km away from the moon, allowing it to be picked up by the moon's gravity.  The probe was moving around 2.3 km per second when it received directions to begin slowing down before entering the moon's gravity field -- slowing it down too early would have made it float away from the moon, and it could have crashed into the moon if it slowed down too late.

Two more braking sessions are planned by engineers over the next two days, if everything goes according to a predetermined schedule.  Another braking will take place tomorrow morning, scheduled to help slow the Chang'e 1 down to 1.8 km per second -- the third brake session will occur on Wednesday, Nov. 7, slowing it down to 1.59 km per second.

"So far, each step in the lunar probe project has been completed almost perfectly," said Sun Laiyan, deputy head for the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense.

The first images Chang'e 1 capture will be sent back to Earth later this month.

With the Chang'e 1 and JAXA SELENE project launching so close to one another, some space enthusiasts are quick to point out a growing space war, but Chinese space officials have been quick to point out that it does not believe an Asian space race is in the works.  Japan and China both have launched a lunar orbiter, while India plans to launch a similar mission sometime next year.

"We are willing to co-operate with the rest of the world to the benefit of humankind, but as to what kind of co-operation, it depends on specific circumstances," Long Jiang, deputy commander of spacecraft systems.

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