China says it plans to launch piloted space craft in a few years, and begin exploring the moon by the end of this decade.
Chinese state media reported Monday Chinese astronauts will fly in space by 2005 and China will begin exploring the moon by 2010. Twelve astronauts are being trained for space missions.
China's chief space scientist, Ouyang Ziyuan says experts have been doing feasibility studies for a moon flight for some time. In a recent lecture he said China hopes to establish a base on the moon.
China has been launching satellites for many years, and recently put its growing space expertise to work on a series of space capsules that have safely carried animals, measuring instruments and mannequins into orbit.
The Shenzhou 3 was the most recent such effort. The space capsule orbited the earth 108 times before landing inside China. Engineers and technicians who examined the craft said it worked and could have carried people into space.
Space experts say China has been developing human space flight since the late 1970s. Some of the first efforts were focused on developing space suits to protect people in the vacuum of space and creating food and packaging so space travelers could eat and drink in a weightless environment.
Chinese government documents say Beijing plans to make substantial increases in spending on its space program over the next five years. Space official say observation from space will help China deal with very down-to-earth problems like a deteriorating environment and improved weather forecasting.