China is planning to establish a base on the Moon to mine its mineral resources. Beijing has not yet put a human astronaut into space, but Chinese scientists say they expect to do so within three years.

Ouyang Ziyuan, a chief scientist with China’s Moon exploration program, says they are planning to launch a manned flight by 2005 and their first mission to the Moon in 2010. In March China successfully launched its third unmanned test flight of a Shenzhou space capsule. Only two countries – the former Soviet Union and the United States – have achieved manned space flight.

China is already training 12 astronauts. Their mission would be to create a Chinese space station and establish links with international space stations, which would be served by space shuttles, just like the joint U.S.-Russian International Space Station.

China’s space program has suffered a series of setbacks. A rocket carrying a telecommunications satellite exploded after blast-off in January 1995. Another rocket blew up after take-off in early 1996 and, later in the year, a rocket placed a Chinese satellite in the wrong orbit, leaving it to drift uselessly in space.

Even though the U.S. got to the Moon first and raised an American flag there, we have never taken advantage of the minerals there. A question could arise about which country has the right to claim the Moon?s natural resources. Ziyuan says, “Our long-term goal is to set up a base on the Moon and mine its riches for the benefit of humanity.?

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