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Japan's first lunar probe lifted off today, billowing clouds of smoke and carrying Japanese hopes of becoming the third nation to reach the Earth's closest neighbor.

The three-stage red-and-silver M3S-2 rocket is to carry the Muses-A satellite into an elliptical orbit that will bring it to within 10,000 miles of the moon in eight weeks. Just before crossing the moon's path, a smaller satellite will break off the Muses-A and go into lunar orbit and send data to the larger satellite on temperatures and electrical fields.

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