China's plans to launch its first lunar orbiter, named "Chang'e 1" - after a female character from Chinese mythology who lived on the moon - in 2007 are on schedule.
The moon orbiting project, the first step in China's overall lunar exploration program that began in 2004, is proceeding smoothly, according to Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the moon probe program and an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The orbiter will provide 3D images of the moon's surface, probe into the distribution of 14 usable elements on the moon, study lunar microwaves and estimate the thickness of the moon's soil on the whole moon. The craft will also monitor the space environment between the moon and the earth, said Ouyang, reports China Daily.
According to Reuters, the mission would kick off in earnest next year, the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po paper said, when China launches an unmanned lunar satellite in March or April to orbit and survey the lunar surface.
"China now basically possesses the technology, materials and the economic strength" to put a man on the moon, the paper quoted the official as saying.
China has come a long way since then paramount leader Mao Zedong lamented in 1957 -- the year the Soviet Union put the first ever man-made object into orbit -- that the country was incapable even of putting a potato into space.
In 2003, China became only the third country -- after the United States and Soviet Union -- to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket. Last October, it sent two men into orbit.
The deputy head of China's space programme says the country will put a man on the moon by 2024.
Long Lehao, deputy chief architect of the lunar probing project, told Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po that the country "possesses the technology, materials and the economic strength" to put a man on the moon, informs Register.