Japan hopes to predict big one with journey to center of earth

An ambitious Japanese-led project to dig deeper into the Earth's surface than ever before will be a breakthrough in detecting earthquakes including Tokyo's dreaded "Big One," officials said Thursday.

The deep-sea drilling vessel Chikyu made a port call Thursday in Yokohama after ending its first training mission at sea since being built in July at a cost of 500 million dollars.

The 57,500-ton Chikyu, which means the Earth in Japanese, is scheduled to embark in September 2007 on a voyage to collect the first samples of the Earth's mantle in human history.

The project, led by Japan and the United States with the participation of China and the European Union, seeks clues on primitive organisms that were the forerunners of life and on the tectonic plates that shake the planet's foundations.

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