Print Story: Japan probe nears Venus orbit - Yahoo! NewsJapan probe nears Venus orbit
Mon Dec 6, 10:23 pm ET
TOKYO – A Japanese probe reached Venus on Tuesday and prepared to enter orbit on a two-year mission that would mark a major milestone for Japan's space program and could shed light on the climate of Earth's mysterious neighbor.
The probe, called Akatsuki, which means "dawn," would be the first Japan has ever placed in orbit around another planet and comes after the country recently brought a probe back from a sample-catching trip to an asteroid.
Japan has been overshadowed in recent years by the big strides of China, which has put astronauts in space twice since 2003 and was the third country to send a human into orbit after Russia and the United States,
However, Japan has long been one of the world's leading space-faring nations. It was the first Asian country to put a satellite in orbit around the Earth — in 1970 — and has developed a highly reliable booster rocket in its H-2 series.
Akatsuki cost 25 billion yen ($300 million).
Japan's space program has never involved manned flight and instead operates on a shoestring budget that focuses primarily on small-scale scientific projects.
It got a big morale boost earlier this year with the successful return to Earth in June of the Hayabusa probe.
Hayabusa successfully captured dust from an asteroid for the first time in history....
The spacecraft's capsule landed successfully in the Australian Outback in June after a seven-year, 4 billion-mile (6 billion-kilometer) journey.
The Venus mission also follows Japan's first lunar probe, which completed a 19-month mission last year. The lunar project gathered data for a detailed map of the moon's surface and examined its mineral distribution.