SHANGHAI, China – China plans a manned lunar mission by 2024 that will include a walk on the moon's surface, a top Chinese scientist was quoted as saying in a Hong Kong newspaper.
The announcement by lunar program vice director Long Lehao shows long-term preparations are moving ahead for the country's ambition space exploration program.
The program went into overdrive following China's first successful manned space mission in 2003 and may include a space walk by an additional manned mission next year.
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Named "Chang'e" after a mythical Chinese moon-inhabiting fairy, the lunar program will begin with the launch next spring of a 2-ton moon orbiting satellite, the program's chief scientist Ouyang Ziyuan was quoted as saying in the official Shanghai Daily newspaper.
The orbiter is due to to stay in space at least a year and record images of the lunar surface, study lunar microwaves, the distribution of usable metals, and the thickness of lunar soil.
Long, who is Ouyang's deputy, was quoted by Hong Kong's Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po on Monday as saying the moon walk will be preceded by the landing of a robot explorer on the moon's surface in 2017 that will return with a chunk of the lunar surface on board.
The program envisions landing a vehicle by 2020 on the moon that would collect soil samples and conduct other tests, possibly in preparation for a manned lunar base.
Ouyang said scientists working on the lunar flights have overcome four major design hazards mainly related to flight control and communications, according to the Shanghai Daily.
The United States hopes to return astronauts to the moon by 2018, nearly a half-century after men last walked the lunar surface.
President Bush has called for the retirement of the space shuttles by 2010 and the creation of a crew exploration vehicle for ferrying astronauts to the international space station and ultimately to the moon and Mars.
The crew exploration vehicle's first manned trip will be to low-Earth orbit, probably no earlier than 2012, according to NASA plans.