December 29, 2005

Manned Chinese moon mission a long way off, says official

BEIJING (Reuters) - A manned Chinese mission to the moon is still a long way off, a state newspaper said on Friday.

"Sending a man to the moon? It would be a one-way ticket if we do it now, given the thrust of our rockets at present is not strong enough," the China Daily quoted Luan Enjie, head of the country's lunar exploration programme, as saying.

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.

A "round the moon" project, the first major step in China's lunar exploration plans, is still on schedule to be launched in 2007, Luan was quoted in state media as saying on Thursday.

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.