Space: Japan Goes to the Moon

A late space program takes off -- and bears watching

The Japanese have a way of making big moves quietly. Only a handful of onlookers stood in the cold one evening last week to watch a slim red-and- silver rocket roar off the pad at the Kagoshima Space Center near Uchinoura, some 940 km (598 miles) southwest of Tokyo. But despite the minimal press coverage and lack of hoopla, the event was a major milestone for Japan's space program. The launch sent the unmanned Muses-A probe on its way to the moon, the first lunar mission since the Soviets' Luna 24 in 1976. Muses-A is expected to come within 16,000 km...

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