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China's 1st Lunar Orbiter Equals 2km of Subway

The first stage of China's moon-orbiting program - the launching of the Chang'e-1 Lunar Orbiter - will cost as much as the construction of two kilometer-stretch of subway in Beijing.

The investment for the lunar project is negligible compared to the country's huge GDP, but "we must make careful plans and calculations to do it well," said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the country's lunar program, on Friday at the ongoing 36th Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).

In 1960, China began studying the possibilities of launching its own lunar orbiter. In 2004, the government approved the 1.4 billion yuan (about US$175 million) lunar orbiting program,namely the building, launching and operation of the Chang-e-1 Lunar Orbiter.

According to the chief scientist, Chinese scientists completed the designing of the Chang-e-1 in 2004 and the building of the lunar orbiter reached its primary stage in 2005. This year, the building of the Chang'e-1 will be completed to ensure its lunar mission in 2007, Ouyang said.

In the long term, the chief scientist said, China's lunar program is divided into three stages - an unmanned lunar flight, a manned lunar voyage and the building of a lunar base.

Compared with the 1.4 billion yuan budget for the first stage, the second and the third stages may cost more than that, Ouyang said.

In its new space programs published in 2004, the United States said it plans to launch unmanned lunar orbiters after 2008 and send its astronauts back to the moon in 2018, with a budget of US$104 billion, and by 2025, Americans will land on Mars, at a cost of US$217 billion.

(Xinhua News Agency July 22, 2006)

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