Japan's SELENE space platform during final assembly  (Source: AP Photo)
JAXA has big plans for the moon, and the country is well ahead of the competition

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched an H-2A rocket designed to help the growing space agency explore the Earth's moon.  The Selenological and Engineering Explorer, or SELENE, separated from the H-2A around 45 minutes after launching from Tanegashima.

"We successfully launched the rocket and released the orbiter from the rocket," said Eriko Sunada, JAXA spokesperson.

JAXA describes the mission as the largest lunar mission since the NASA Apollo mission more than 30 years ago.  Using three satellites -- two located at polar opposites -- JAXA hopes to help learn more about the origin and evolution of the moon.  JAXA previously launched a lunar mission more than 15 years ago, but it was designed only to conduct fly-bys of the moon's surface.

The SELENE space mission has had its shares of ups and downs over the past five years.  After a delay of more than four years due to launch failures and computer glitches, the mission was scheduled to launch in mid-August, but was again pushed back due to hardware issues.  

Early indications show the engines and computer systems aboard SELENE are functioning normally.  The 10-month mission will officially begin operation in December.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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