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China has announced plans to map "every inch" of the surface of the Moon as part of its ambitious space-exploration programme.
The NSA (National Space Administration) also made no bones about China's commercial interest in space, telling reporters that the Moon holds the key to future generation of energy.
Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the first phase of lunar exploration, is quoted on government-sanctioned news site ChinaNews.com describing plans to collect three dimensional images of the Moon. He also outlined plans to exploit the vast quantities of Helium-3 thought to lie buried in lunar rock.
"There are altogether 15 tons of helium-3 on Earth, while on the Moon, the total amount of Helium-3 can reach one to five million tons," he said.
"Helium-3 is considered as a long-term, stable, safe, clean and cheap material for human beings to get nuclear energy through controllable nuclear fusion experiments. If we human beings can finally use such energy material to generate electricity, then China might need 10 tons of helium-3 every year and in the world, about 100 tons of helium-3 will be needed every year."
The country's space programme is split into three phases - the first is "circling the Moon", the second "landing on the Moon", and the third "returning to Earth".
Earlier this year, the Chinese space agency outlined plans to launch the first probe in the second half of 2007. It has now also given a few more details of its plans for phase two, which will see an unmanned rover land on the lunar surface in 2010 and "meticulously" survey the area in which it lands. A sample-return mission is slated for 2012. ®
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China plans to survey all of the moon's surface before eventually bringing bits of the planet back to Earth, state media reported Friday.
"We would like to survey every inch of the moon's surface," Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the China's moon exploration project, was quoted as saying on the website of Chinese News Service.
Ouyang, speaking at a conference in southwestern China this week, said China's lunar exploration programme was divided into three phases: orbiting the moon, landing on the lunar surface and coming back to Earth with samples.
China hopes to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon to survey the moon systematically and after that, will attempt to collect samples of the moon to bring back to Earth, he said.
China's space agency chief, Sun Laiyan, said earlier this year that the country aimed to launch its first lunar orbiter in the second half of 2007.
"The moon probe project is the third milestone in China's space technology after satellite and manned spacecraft projects, and a first step for us in exploring deep space," the China National Space Administration head said.
The orbiter represented the first phase, with a moon rover to be used in the second phase scheduled for around 2012, reports said.
The plan for the third phase was for another rover to land on the lunar surface and collect samples before returning to Earth.
China would continue to research manned space missions, including a space walk and experiments to link passing spacecraft, he said.