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China to launch first Moon probe before year-end

RIA Novosti

21/05/2007 12:54 BEIJING, May 21 (RIA Novosti) - China plans to launch a probe called Chang'e-1 that will fly to the Moon and enter lunar orbit before the end of the year, the director of the Chinese National Space Administration said Monday.

Sun Laiyan said the Chinese exploration project would involve three stages -- orbiting the Moon in 2006, landing an unmanned rover on the Moon in 2010 or 2012, and returning lunar soil and rock samples from the Moon around 2015.

It was reported earlier that only after those steps had been taken might China land human beings on the Moon, possibly in 2017.

Weighing about 5,181 lbs. (2.6 tons), the satellite would orbit the Moon for at least 12 months, recording three-dimensional images of the surface, measuring the content and density of the Moon's soil, and exploring its environment, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The news agency said the satellite project would cost about $170 million.

Lunar exploration would allow China to "struggle for a more important place in the world space science field and raise our deep space exploration technology to a higher standard," according to Xinhua.

China launched a human being into Earth orbit in October 2003. It launched two more "Taiconauts" in one flight in October 2005.

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