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China plans moon landing by 2020

China plans to land a human on the moon by 2020, the country’s chief space official said in comments broadcast today by state television. “By 2020, we will achieve visiting the moon,” said Luan Enjie, director of the National Aerospace Bureau. Luan said that would follow the launch of a probe to orbit the moon by 2007 and an unmanned lunar landing by 2010.

China’s once-secret space program has released a stream of such disclosures following the Oct. 15 flight of astronaut Yang Liwei on the country’s first manned space voyage. The broadcast on a channel of China State Television directed at foreign audiences said Luan spoke at a national forum on science and the humanities. It didn’t say where or when the forum took place. The space program is a key prestige project for the Communist government, which launched its first satellite in 1970.

The government said earlier this month it would probably launch its second manned space flight within two years, carrying a two-member crew. Officials also have said the government plans eventually to send up a permanently manned space station. But until Luan’s comments, officials had denied having plans for a manned lunar landing. They insisted that, in contrast to the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, China was moving at its own careful, cost-effective pace.