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China Officially Sets Its Sight On The Moon

China laid out its vision for space exploration in a white paper released today. In it, China declares its intention to put a man on the moon, a feat accomplished last by the United States almost 40 years ago.

The Financial Times says that while the prospect has been discussed by scientists in the past, the paper is "the first public government document to enshrine it as a policy goal."

The Times adds:

"Although a manned moon mission is still some time off – Chinese experts say after 2020 – the statement highlights Beijing's soaring ambitions just five months after the US retired its space shuttle programme . 'Chinese people are the same as people around the world,' Zhang Wei, an official with China's National Space Administration, said at a briefing. 'When looking up at the starry sky, we are full of longing and yearning for the vast universe.'

"According to the white paper, which serves as a blueprint for the next five years, China will develop new satellites, accelerate efforts to build a space station and strengthen its research in space. Laying the foundation for a mission to the moon, the government also plans to launch unmanned lunar probes and make 'new technological breakthroughs' in human space flights by 2016."

More immediately in 2012, China will launch two spacecraft that will dock with the Tiangong-1 vehicle, according to Xinhua, China's official news agency. The docking would be another step in China's goal of constructing its own space station.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.