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Tue, Jun 20, 2006

China Sets 2024 As Goal For Manned Moon Mission

May Mine Possible Fuel Source From Lunar Surface

As NASA looks to the stars for its future, the agency is no doubt also keeping an eye trained on countries looking to usurp the agency's lead in space travel. Take China, for example... which is waiting in the wings to match several of NASA's proudest accomplishments.

On Monday, the deputy head of China's space program, Long Lehao, declared his country will put a man on the moon by 2024.

China "possesses the technology, materials and the economic strength" to put a taikonaut on the moon, Long told the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po -- and the agency has a four-stage plan to get there.

Step one is already complete: put a man into space. Next up is stage two, which will run from 2009-2015 and will see, among other advancements, an unmanned lunar probe and China's first spacewalk.

Step three, slated for 2017, will send an unmanned robotic sample-return mission to the lunar surface... with a manned mission following seven years later.

Long added that China doesn't want to merely establish a presence on the moon, however... the country wants to profit from it, too. To that end, the Chinese National Space Administration is reportedly looking at the possibility of mining Helium-3 -- a possible non-polluting source of fuel -- from the lunar surface.

Helium-3 exists in minute quantities on Earth, but is believed to be abundant on the Moon. Analyzing lunar samples for traces of the gas will be a primary focus of China's upcoming lunar probes.



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