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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 10:41 GMT
China eyes the Moon
The moon, AP
Could the Chinese flag join the Stars and Stripes?
China says it will launch a manned flight into space before 2005 to be followed by a mission to the moon.

A senior scientist, Liang Sili, told officials that further unmanned flights were necessary to ensure that astronauts were "100% safe" in outer space.

Chinese shuttle poster, AP
China wants the prestige of being a player in space
Officials did not give any details of the Moon exploration plan, but the state-run Xinhua news agency said China hoped the mission would take place "in the next decade or longer".

China has twice launched space capsules since it began work towards a manned space flight programme two years ago. The last spacecraft, launched in January, carried a monkey, a dog, a rabbit and some snails into orbit.

Correspondents say China's main motivation for taking part in the space race is to raise national prestige, both at home and overseas.

Commercial rewards

The China Daily newspaper quoted Mr Liang as saying: "For mankind in the 21st Century, space application will become as essential as electricity and oil in the 19th Century."

A Long March rocket blasts off in late 1999, AP
China's workhorse launcher is the Long March 4 rocket
The newspaper also reported that three satellites would be launched next year to monitor weather, study the oceans and search for natural resources.

China has been trying to gain a slice of the lucrative commercial satellite launch market. Earlier this year, the European Space Agency (Esa) signed a deal to place instruments aboard two Chinese satellites.

The Chinese project, Double Star, will explore the Earth's magnetosphere - the magnetic "bubble" which surrounds the planet.

Programme recovery

It is the first time Europe has decided to conduct experiments on board Chinese satellites.

They are due to go into orbit aboard Long March 2C rockets in December 2002 and March 2003.

China's space industry is recovering from a string of setbacks in the mid-nineties. A Long March 2E rocket carrying a telecommunications satellite exploded after blast-off in January 1995, killing a family of six.

Another rocket blew up after take-off in early 1996 and, later in the year, a Long March rocket placed a $120m Chinese satellite in the wrong orbit, leaving it to drift hopelessly in space.

See also:

09 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Europe signs space deal with China
11 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Satellite separation seen from space
09 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Cluster satellites launch
16 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Cluster satellites go into orbit
16 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Blast off for space weather mission
01 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
European mission open to offers
10 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Inflatable shields look good
16 Jul 99 | The moon landing
Walking on the moon
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