China will begin an effort to send astronauts to the moon in about 2017, with a landing some time after that, official media said Wednesday, citing a senior official of the lunar probe program.

The moon landing would cap a lunar program begun in 2004 with the launch of a probe. In October, China launched its second manned space flight, a successful five-day mission.

The Xinhua News Agency quoted Ouyang Ziyuan, the lunar program's chief scientist, as saying unmanned lunar probes will be ramped up in three stages until about 2017, when the manned program will begin.

The report did not indicate when a manned lunar landing might be accomplished.

According to Ouyang and other Chinese space officials, an effort to launch lunar orbiting satellites will be supplanted in 2007 by a program aimed at accomplishing an unmanned lunar landing.

A program to return unmanned space vehicles from the moon will begin in 2012 and last for five years, until the manned program gets underway, Xinhua quoted the officials as saying.

China attaches great prestige to its space program, seeing it as a way to validate its claims to be one of the world's leading scientific nations.

The cost of the program is low by Western standards, and Chinese leaders frequently point out that space technology has numerous spinoffs for aeronautics and other high technology industries.