China starts development of its first lunar exploration craft
BEIJING (AFP) Aug 03, 2004
China has started developing its first unmanned lunar exploration craft in order to meet its own tight timetable of reaching the moon before 2007, state media said Tuesday.

Work on the craft, named "Chang'e 1" after a moon traveler of ancient legend, is going smoothly, making members of the moon program confident the launch will go ahead as planned, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Construction of the ground reception system which "Chang'e 1" will send its data to is nearly completed, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist on the 1.4-billion-yuan (170-million-dollar) program.

State media reported earlier the "Chang'e 1" is expected to orbit the moon for at least 12 months.

Landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon will take longer preparation and is not expected until 2010.

China gained invaluable expertise and experience from its first manned space flight in October last year, when astronaut Yang Liwei orbited the Earth 14 times.

The feat made China only the third country in the world after the United States and the former Soviet Union to send a man into space.

The country's desire to compete in space with other world powers has become a mammoth undertaking.

Since its space program was set up in 1992 it has grown to employ tens of thousands of scientific, manufacturing and planning personnel in more than 3,000 factories.