China declares plans for mission to the moon
China has declared its intent to send a man to the moon, aiming to become the first nation to reach the lunar surface since the last American mission in 1972.
A white paper just published set out the country's five-year plan for the development on new satellites, spacecraft and a space station and provided the official confirmation of China's lunar ambitions.
The landing is not expected until at least 2020 but under the government's blueprints "new technological breakthroughs" in human space flight will be achieved by 2016.
The country hopes to complete it first space station in the same year, a goal encouraged by the successful mission to dock two unmanned spacecraft in orbit last month.
“Chinese people are the same as people around the world,” Zhang Wei, an official with China's National Space Administration, told the Financial Times.
“When looking up at the starry sky, we are full of longing and yearning for the vast universe.”
Two Chinese flights are expected in the 2012, nine years after Yang Liwei became the first “taikonaut” to reach space.
The scale of China's plans come in stark contrast to those of the United States, the first and only nation to reach the moon in 1969.
George W Bush proposed an American return to the moon but the programme was halted by Barack Obama, citing the enormous cost.
In July, the space shuttle Atlantis made its final landing, ending the 30-year era of the American space shuttle.
No human set foot on the moon since December 1972 when American astronauts landed as part of the Apollo 17 mission.
Although the space programme is being run by the Chinese military, the white paper insists the country has no ambitions for weapons in space.
"China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponisation or any arms race in outer space," it reads.
It also provides a long list of countries working with China on space research including Britain, France, Brazil and Russia.