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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 16:44 GMT
China sets its sights on the Moon
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Luan Enjie, Chinese National Aerospace Bureau
Luan Enjie sets a date, but is it realistic?
China has outlined plans to land a man on the Moon by 2020, the country's chief space official said in comments broadcast on state television.

"By 2020, we will achieve visiting the Moon," remarked Luan Enjie, director of the Chinese National Aerospace Bureau.

Translators said that Luan used a verb that specifically describes a human mission to the Earth satellite.

He said it would follow the launch of a probe to orbit the Moon by 2007 and an unmanned lunar landing by 2010.

Deep space focus

China's once-secret space programme has become more open following the 15 October flight of astronaut Yang Liwei on the country's first manned spaceflight.

However, analysts are sceptical of predictions and definite dates announced more than a few years away. They know how difficult and costly such programmes are and how they are subject to changes in the political climate.

"We will focus on deep space exploration. The first target selected is the Moon," Luan said.

The broadcast was on a channel of China state television that is directed at foreign audiences. It reported what Luan said at a national forum on science and the humanities.

The space programme is a key prestige project for the communist government, which launched its first satellite in 1970.

China recently said it would probably launch its second manned spaceflight within two years. The mission would carry two astronauts.

Officials have said the government plans eventually to send up a permanently manned space station.

Until Luan's comments, however, China had denied having ambitions for a manned lunar landing.

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