China has no plan or timetable for a manned moon landing for now, senior Chinese lunar scientists told Xinhua on Thursday, a day after the nation launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1.
"A manned moon landing is a project with great difficulties, high risks and huge investments. A wish-list approach is not the way to go about it," said Luan Enjie, chief commander of China's lunar orbiter project.
"Many factors have to be taken into account to carry out such a project, such as economic budgets, technological level, and whether it is a must for current scientific studies," Luan said.
"So, it's too early to talk about manned landings on the moon for the time being," he added.
Chang'e-1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday from the No. 3 launching tower in the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern Sichuan Province.
The satellite launch marks the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to an unmanned moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2012.
In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.
Sources with the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense said that China has finished working out an overall plan for carrying out the second phase of the moon program.
But according to Sun Laiyan, deputy head of the commission, China is still far from being capable of sending a man onto the moon, considering its current technology and capacity of launch vehicle.
In addition, it is a very complicated process from manned space flight to manned moon landing, and China has to crack lots of tough technological problems, such as allowing the taikonauts to walk out of the spacecraft, the rendezvous and docking of the spacecraft, the return of taikonauts from the lunar surface, and survival on the moon, said Sun Jiadong, chief designer of China's lunar orbiter project.
"We don't possess those technologies for now, and we cannot solve those problems in a short period of time," he said.
While Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar orbiter project, told Xinhua that, after all, it is the first time that China has launched a lunar probe, and subsequent scientific research will grow with the deepening of China's lunar explorations. His feelings were echoed by Luan.
"Humanity will go through three phases in lunar explorations, including lunar probing, manned moon landing and setting up a lunar base. Lunar probing is just a single, isolated incident without a long-term vision," he said.
The 2,300-kg moon orbiter, Chang'e-1, carried eight probing facilities, including a stereo camera and interferometer, an imager and gamma/x-ray spectrometer, a laser altimeter, a microwave detector, a high-energy solar particle detector and a low-energy ion detector.
It will fulfil four scientific objectives, including a three-dimensional survey of the moon's surface, analysis of distribution and amounts of elements on the lunar surface, an investigation of the characteristics of lunar mantle rock and the powdery soil layer on the surface, and an exploration of the environment between the Earth and the Moon.
The satellite is expected to enter earth-moon transfer orbit on Oct. 31 and arrive in the moon's orbit on Nov. 5. It will relay the first pictures of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific explorations of the moon for a year.
The milestone lunar orbiter project has cost 1 to 1.4 billion yuan (US$133 million to 187 million) since research and development of the project was approved at the beginning of 2004.
China carried out its maiden piloted space flight in October 2003, making it only the third country in the world after the Soviet Union and the United States to have sent men into space. In October 2005, China completed its second manned space flight, with two astronauts on board.
(Xinhua News Agency October 25, 2007)