December 29, 2005

China’s Moon Orbiting Mission Takes Step Forward

BEIJING -- China's plans to send a spacecraft around the moon have reached a new stage, with the unmanned orbiter and rocket entering production and testing, China's top aerospace official said on Thursday.

Luan Enjie, commander of China's "round the moon" project, said the Chang'e 1 Lunar Orbiter and a launch rocket are being assembled and tested, and the launch site and command system are also taking shape, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Luan said the craft is still on schedule to be launched in 2007.

The unmanned lunar orbiter is part of China's plan to eventually land astronauts -- called "taikonauts" by the Chinese government -- on the moon before 2020.

"Taikong" is the Mandarin Chinese word for outerspace.

"Our technical staff have solved many crucial technical problems by attacking technological focal points, assembling systems and conducting a range of experiments," Xinhua said in the report on preparations.

Planning for China's lunar exploration project has been underway since early 2004.

China launched its first man into space in 2003, and in October 2005 it sent another spacecraft carrying two men into orbit for five days. Another manned orbit is planned for 2007.

In the United States, the Bush administration announced a $104 billion plan in September to return Americans to the moon by 2018. Its Apollo program carried the first humans to the moon in 1969.

Japan has also announced plans to land a person on the moon by 2025.