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Extends space exploration plans

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China's ambitious space exploration plans - already encompassing the Moon - also extend to Mars, the Xinhua news agency announced today.

The country intends to launch its first $175m lunar probe next year, Reuters reports. The year-long mission to gather "three-dimensional images and data on the moon's surface and environment" is the first part of a three-stage project which also promises a lunar vehicle by 2012 and a rock-collecting module by 2017.

However, as we recently reported, the deputy head of China's space programme declared back in June that they'd get a man on the lunar surface by 2024, suggesting a four-stage Moon plan.

It doesn't end there, and Xinhua announced today that in the next five years "China will on the basis of its Moon probes actively plan deep space exploration, focusing on lunar and Mars exploration". ®

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