China in 2003 became the third country to put a man in space with
its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
It has touted its plans for moon exploration and in late 2013
completed the first lunar "soft landing" since 1976 with the
Chang'e-3 craft and its Jade Rabbit rover.
The country also plans to land the first probe ever on the dark side
of the moon in 2018, another milestone.
China must "raise its abilities and use the next 15 to 20 years to
realize manned lunar exploration goals, and take a firm step for the
Chinese people in breaking ground in the utilization of space",
Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin, deputy commander of the China Manned
Space Program, said.
Zhang made the comments in statement posted to the program's website
The official China Daily newspaper said the announcement marked "the
country's first confirmation of a manned lunar exploration program".
The paper cited experts saying China needed first to develop a
powerful enough rocket to lift a payload of at least 100 metric tons
into low Earth orbit. It also needs more advanced technology,
including new space suits, for a lunar mission.
Advancing China's space program is a priority for Beijing, with
President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as
a space power.
China insists its program is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S.
Defense Department has highlighted China's increasing space
capabilities, saying it is pursuing activities aimed to prevent
adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.
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Apart from its civilian ambitions, Beijing has tested anti-satellite
missiles, and the U.S. Congress has banned NASA from engaging in
cooperation with its Chinese counterpart due to security concerns.
China's space budget is still only about one-tenth of the United
States' outlays, officials have said. According to Chinese state
media, China spends about $2 billion a year on its space program,
though details are vague.
China said this month that it would launch a "core module" for its
first space station sometime around 2018, part of a plan to have a
permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
China is also preparing to launch a Mars probe in 2020, which would
reach the planet in 2021, the official Xinhua news agency has said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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