China space scientists eye Mars probe in 2009

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BEIJING, Nov 8 (Reuters) China, the third country to put a man in space on its own rocket, will open part of the second stage of its moon mission to private funding and also aim to send a probe to Mars in 2009, local media reported today.

As part of an ambitious space programme, China's first lunar probe reached its working orbit yesterday. The country plans to put a man on the moon within 15 years.

Li Guoping, a spokesman for the China National Space Administration, told the Shanghai Daily that funding could come from ''scientific research organs, universities and also private companies''.

''With the expansion of China's space exploration, we'd like to encourage private enterprise to join space technology development and attract public funds for aerospace-related research, manufacture and trade,'' Li said.

The launch of the probe represents the first stage in China's three-step moon mission. The second stage envisages a moon landing.

The final stage would involve a landing and collection of soil and rock samples.

The lunar orbiter, Chang'e 1, is scheduled to begin its probe at the end of this month when all of its instruments will be fully operational.

Already one Chinese official was talking of adding to the space successes with a probe to Mars -- with Russian help.

The two countries are planning to work together to send probes to the red planet aboard a Russian rocket in 2009, Zhang Wei of China's national space administration told state television, according to the China News Service.

''The launch of the Mars exploration plan will mark another big step forward for China's exploration in deep space,'' the report cited Zhang as saying.

In 2003, China became only the third country to put a man into space on its own, joining the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Long Lehao, one of China's top rocket scientists, said China planned to launch a space station by 2020. This was promptly followed by an official denial that made future plans unclear.

Reuters MS DB2007

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