China is planning giant strides into deep space exploration by sending its first lunar manned mission by 2025, a probe to Mars by 2013 and to Venus by 2015, intensifying its space race with India which also plans Moon and Sun missions.

China’s first step toward expected to orbit the Moon, land and return to Earth by 2020, said Ye Peijian, Commander in Chief of the Chang’e (lunar landing) programme and an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Ye told a meeting Space scientists that China plans to launch its first manned moon landing in 2025, a probe to Mars by 2013 and to Venus by 2015.

“China has the full capacity to accomplish Mars exploration by 2013,” Ye was quoted as saying by the state-run Global Times newspaper.

The unmanned mission to the Moon was seen as a counter to India’s Chandrayan-1, which left its foot prints on the Moon by crashing on to the lunar surface with the tricolour, stealing a march over China by becoming the fourth country to do so after the U.S., Russia and Japan.

China, earlier, had a head start by flying a man into space in 2003 thus becoming the third nation only after United States and the Soviet Union and Chang’e 1 was launched in 2007 which entered lunar orbit and sent pictures of the moon.

India plans to launch its Chandrayan-II mission in 2012-13 with its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which would include a lunar orbiter to probe the moon surface for geological date and look for helium-3.

ISRO also plans to send manned space flight by 2015 and a human moon mission by 2025 besides plans to send a satellite (Aditya) to study Sun corona with more advanced GSLV launchers.

China has also announced plans to set up its orbital space station by 2020.

Earlier this month, Chief Engineer overseeing China’s lunar exploration programme Wu Weiren said that work on the Chang’e-2 lunar orbiter had entered the pre-launch testing stage and it would make its first trial flight before the end of the year.

Chang’e-2 will carry out a soft-landing test in preparation for the launch of Chang’e-3, which is scheduled for 2013. The Chang’e Project is named after a Chinese legend of a goddess who took a magic elixir and flew to the moon.

Space-programme officials had said previously that the Chang’e-2 mission would be launched in October around the Mid Autumn Festival, dedicated to the Moon Goddess, Chang’e, but no precise date has been given.

Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China’s lunar orbiter project, said Beijing plans to launch an orbital space station by around 2020 is achievable, based on aerospace technology development and the success of future manned missions.

China’s space programme will pose great challenges to scientists and technicians, Mr. Ouyang said. The space station will be quite small in size compared with the International Space Station, a joint collaboration between 16 countries, including the U.S. and Russia.

Chinese analysts, however, dismissed international concerns that Beijing is engaging in an outer-space arms race, stressing that recent activities and future missions are for scientific purposes and for the benefit of mankind.

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