Monday night will mark the beginning of Europe’s space exploration, as a tiny spacecraft will start orbiting the moon.
On Monday, SMART-1 (the acronym stands for Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology) will manoeuvre itself into lunar orbit and become the first European Space Agency spacecraft to reach &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/10/05/37771.html' target=_blank>the moon.
Smart-1 has been drifting away from &to=http://english.pravda.ru/science/19/94/378/14269_aliens.html' target=_blank>Earth in ever-increasing orbits, driven by a form of electrochemical propulsion called ion drive. It is now closing on the moon at 3km a second. On Monday night, its ion drive engines will ignite again and begin a slow, gentle push to take the spacecraft into orbit, reports Xinhua.
According to Ninemsn, professor Bernard Foing, ESA's chief scientist and SMART-1 Project Scientist, said at a briefing in London: "At the moment SMART-1 is only at the gateway. We are not yet there.
"Symbolically it's important, because it's the first time that Western Europe has a mission that is more attracted to the moon than the Earth."