Tokyo Japan's space agency launched its much-delayed lunar probe today, beginning what it calls the largest mission to the moon since the U.S. Apollo flights.
The Selenological and Engineering Explorer - or SELENE - probe was launched aboard one of the space program's mainstay H-2A rockets from its launchpad on remote Tanegashima island.
Footage of the launch carried live over the Internet showed the rocket racing upward through slightly hazy skies to the southeast. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the craft's engines and navigation systems appeared to be operating normally.
The launch of the $279 million SELENE probe came four years behind the agency's original schedule. Japan launched a moon probe in 1990, but that was a flyby mission, unlike SELENE, which is intended to orbit the moon.