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China plans space competition

China's latest national hero, Yang Liwei -- the country's first man in space.
China's latest national hero, Yang Liwei -- the country's first man in space.

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China's plans for space exploration include unmanned missions to the moon and Mars in the next decade.
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- It may be too early to call it a full-blown "space race", but China's burgeoning space program is certainly adding an element of competition for the long-dominant NASA efforts.

After the successful return space flight by Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei last October, China has set its sights on the moon and Mars -- with plans for an unmanned lunar satellite by 2007.

That would be followed by the landing of an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2010, the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

As U.S. President George W. Bush revealed Wednesday, the Chinese will not be alone on their inter-planetary quests.

Under an ambitious scheme, Bush wants NASA to return Americans to the moon by 2020 and use the mission as a steppingstone for future manned trips to Mars and beyond. (Full story)

China is only the third country to send a person into space, a status which has created enormous national pride.

Liwei's success is clearly just the beginning of China's long-term space goals.

China aims to launch 10 satellites this year while preparing for its second manned space flight and the lunar quest, space officials have said.

The 10 Chinese orbiters would be shot into space atop nine rockets from the Jiuquan, Xichang and Taiyuan launch sites, Xinhua quotes Zhang Qingwei, head of the China Space Science and Technology Corp, the major rocket and satellite producer, as saying.

China has also shown a part of its space program to U.S. chief of staff General Richard Myers, who was given a rare tour of a space center during his two-day visit to Beijing that began on Wednesday.

China says it is willing to cooperate with the U.S. and other countries on space exploration.

Some analysts say a Chinese-American space rivalry may prove healthy and lead to other benefits such as new drug products, but other White House hawks see Beijing's space program more as a warning.

They say China could use a space base to test new rockets or other technology that may prove threatening to the United States at some later date.

China is also determined to go it alone if necessary, even with an estimated $2 billion annual budget for its space program, barely one-fifth of what NASA spends each year.

But for the Chinese government, it is money well spent if successes in space can whip up patriotic fervor that translates into other fields, generating a popular feeling that if other countries can do it, China can do it too.

-- Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.

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