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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
China denies manned Moon mission plans
Shenzhou launch aboard Long March rocket, AP
China: 'We will explore with unmanned spacecraft'

China will not be launching a manned mission to the Moon in the foreseeable future, according to Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's Moon exploration programme.

In an exclusive interview with BBC News Online he said he wanted to clarify news reports in the Chinese media that Beijing would be putting a man on the Moon by 2010 with the establishment of a Moonbase soon afterwards.

"We will explore the Moon certainly," he said from his office in Beijing, "but with unmanned spacecraft."

"One of our goals is to bring lunar samples back to China for analysis. We are interested in the minerals on the Moon. We will prepare an unmanned spacecraft to do this."

No specific date

Ouyang Ziyuan is an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is an expert on meteorites and cosmic dust.

"We are not setting a specific date for a landing on the Moon," he said. "We are just at the start of preparing plans for our exploration of the Moon.

"I am very confident that China will complete the first phase of its lunar exploration by 2010. It could be completed earlier by 2007 perhaps."

"First, our spacecraft will take a ride around the Moon looking at its resources and environment. After that we will develop a soft-landing machine. We have many plans for such things."

Ouyang Ziyuan pointed out that he was not the official responsible for manned space missions but he did say that currently astronaut training was not linked to any future Moon mission.

"Our aim is a space station not later than 2005," he said. He was unable to say whether China would be putting a man into space before 2005. Western experts believe that China could stage a brief manned mission as early as next year.

Moon, then Mars

If reports of a manned landing by 2010 are exaggerated, Ouyang Ziyuan was willing to say that he could foresee manned outposts on the Moon in the long-term, "perhaps by 2020 or 2030".

Ouyang Ziyuan, BBC
Ouyang Ziyuan is chief scientist of China's Moon exploration programme
"The Moon could serve as a new and tremendous supplier of energy and resources for human beings," he said. "This is crucial to sustainable development of human beings on Earth."

"Whoever first conquers the Moon will benefit first," Mr Ouyang added. "As for China, it needs to adopt a strategy based on its concrete economic power and technology level.

"We are also looking further out into the Solar System - to Mars."

See also:

20 May 02 | Science/Nature
01 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
25 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
23 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
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