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China now plans to launch moon probe in five years

Jubilant over its first manned flight to space, China now plans to launch a probe to orbit the moon in three to five years. The announcement came as China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, made his first public appearance in Hong Kong since orbiting the Earth last month. It came amid a stream of disclosures about the ambitions of the secrecy-shrouded space programme following the success of Yang’s 21 1/2-hour flight.

“China is to launch its first moon-probing satellite in the next three to five years,” Xinhua said, quoting Zhang Qingwei, deputy head of Yang’s delegation in Hong Kong. Plans call eventually for landing a robot probe on the moon and retrieving samples of the surface, Xinhua said.

China launched its first satellite in 1970. Zhang said that after satellites and manned space flight, a moon probe would be the “third milestone” of China’s space programme. He said the moon probe would be launched aboard one of China’s Long March III A rockets. Officials say the country plans to launch another Shenzhou capsule within two years and eventually wants to send up a permanently manned space station.