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China’s Chang’e 2 lunar probe, now out of lunar orbit, did a fly-by of the 3 mile wide asteroid Toutatis as it zipped past the Earth last week, resulting in some spectacular images.
Launched on October 1, 2010, Chang’e 2 orbited the Moon for 8 months before being redirected last year to the L2 Lagrange point, roughly a million miles on the side of Earth opposite the Sun. But when it left L2 last April, Western observers suspected the spacecraft was heading deeper interplanetary space. It didn’t take long to realize that Chang’e 2 was bound for Toutatis.
This is an example of a very smart re-use of a space probe.
By the way, the first fly-by of another planet took place fifty years ago this week.