China to send man to Moon
China could launch a manned lunar landing as early as 2020, experts say

China has officially declared its intention to put a man on the Moon - nearly 40 years after the last American astronauts landed on the lunar surface.

While Chinese scientists have been contemplating such a mission for years, Beijing has been less keen and has only just published a white paper making a lunar landing a policy goal.

China will "conduct studies in the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing," according to the white paper, which serves as a blueprint for the next five years.

The statement highlights Beijing's growing ambitions at a time when the US has retired its space shuttle programme.

A manned Chinese Moon landing is not expected to take place until at least 2020, experts predicted.

"Chinese people are the same as people around the world," said Zhang Wei, an official with the China National Space Administration.

"When looking up at the starry sky, we are full of longing and yearning for a vast universe."

China is expected to accelerate its development of satellites and space stations in preparation for a future lunar landing.

The last time an astronaut set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The cost of space exploration has become prohibitive and US President Barack Obama halt the space shuttle programme last year.

China's space programme has been growing in confidence. China's first "taikonaut" ventured into space in 2003.

Beijing has launched a trial of its own satellite navigation system to replace the US global positioning system. The Financial Times reported that Beijing hopes to complete construction of a permanent space laboratory by 2016.