China launched its first lunar probe engineering center in Beijing on Monday to facilitate work on a lunar probe mission scheduled for 2007 at the latest.
The center, set up by the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, comes a year after the State Council approved the country's first lunar probe program on January 23 last year.
China plans to launch a lunar probe before 2007, which will be designed to obtain three-dimensional images of the moon's surface, analyze the content of elements and materials, and probe the depth of the lunar soil and the spatial environment between the earth and the moon.
Speaking at the launch ceremony, Zhang Yunchuan, minister in charge of the commission, called on the engineering center to go all-out to complete the tasks set for the probe program.
The program, backed by a budget of 1.4 billion yuan (about US$170 million), is part of the country's three-stage lunar project.
Stage one involves the lunar probe by 2007. Stage two would be the landing of an unmanned vehicle on the moon in 2010. Stage three of the project would involve the use of the unmanned vehicle to collect samples of lunar soil in 2020.
The lunar program is also known as the Chang'e Program, named after a fairy tale goddess who flew to the moon.
(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2005)