Japan Plans Moon Flights

Japan's (search) space agency mapped out an ambitious plan for manned flights to the moon by 2025 as a first step toward exploring the solar system, but decisions about going it alone or collaborating with other nations won't be made for another decade.

The proposal unveiled Wednesday by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (search), or JAXA, marks the agency's first attempt in years to rethink its missions and rejuvenate a space program that has been hobbled by recent launch pad and space probe failures.

JAXA sent the plan for review, asking for a budget increase to roughly $2.6 billion a year, from $2 billion. By comparison, NASA's (search) annual budget is about $16 billion.

"It won't require a big budget rise," JAXA Chairman Keiji Tachikawa said, adding that it's "too soon to know how [much] it will cost because things might change in coming years."

Japan's long-term vision resembles those of President Bush and European space officials, who hope to land astronauts and robots on the moon as a first step to sending space shuttle missions to Mars.

Over the next decade, JAXA's plan calls for scientists to develop robots and nanotechnology for surveys of the moon, and design a rocket and space vessel capable of carrying cargo and passengers.

By 2015, JAXA will review whether it's ready to pour resources into manned space travel and possibly building a base on the moon. A decision to possibly to try for Mars and other planets would be made after 2025.

The plan emerged two months after JAXA sent a communications satellite into space — its first successful launch since November 2003, when a rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned after liftoff and was destroyed in mid-flight.

Despite being Asia's most advanced space-exploring nation, Japan has been playing catch-up to Europe in commercial satellite launches.

Tokyo also has struggled to outdo China, which put its first astronaut into orbit in October 2003 and later announced plans for a trip to the moon.