Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, March 03, 2003

China to Embark on Unmanned Mission to the Moon Soon

China's National Aerospace Bureau says the country is busy preparing for a voyage to the moon. The exploration project includes sending a moon probing satellite, and placing moon cars and robots to collect rock and soil samples and return safely.


China could send its first unmanned probe to the moon within the next two and a half years, a leading scientific official has revealed.

The Chang'e Programme, which is awaiting government approval, is named after the Chinese legend about a young fairy who flies to the moon.

"We will be able to embark on a maiden unmanned mission within two and a half years if the government endorses the scheme now,'' Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar exploration programme, said in Beijing on Saturday.

Ouyang, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the nation's top institution of its kind, said China should not drag its feet in sending the lunar probe, given the Earth's nearest neighbour probably holds the key to humanity's future subsistence and development.

Another indication of the importance China attaches to lunar exploration was given by remarks made by Luan Enjie, director of China National Space Administration, at a national civil aerospace working conference held over the weekend.

He announced China will finish the first phase of the Chang'e Programme by 2010.

After years of painstaking feasibility studies, Chinese scientists have worked out a lunar probe programme, which consists of three stages, including orbiting, landing and returning from the moon with lunar soil and rock samples, according to Luan.

The first phase of the project will see China send a lunar orbiter spacecraft to circle the moon and map its surface to get three-dimensional images of it.

This part of mission will also deal with analyzing the content and distribution of useful elements on the moon surface, measure the density of lunar soil and exploring the lunar space environment, according to Luan.

The subsequent two phases of the Chang'e Programme will involve wheeled robotic explorers, which roll on the moon and collect lunar soil for research, he said.

The announcement of the Chang'e Programme is timed just several days before the country's political advisers and the National People's Congress delegates meet in Beijing this week, helping it attract legislators' attention.

Luan did not mention a timetable for a manned lunar landing. Ouyang said a piloted mission to the moon is not currently a goal for China, although, ultimately, the country will send man to the Earth's natural satellite.

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