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MSNBC - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log MSN Home | My MSN | Hotmail |
May 18, 2004 | 7:30 p.m. ET

Moonshot lost in translation: Is China canceling its manned moon program? You might think that, based on reports distributed today by Reuters and Agence France Presse. But NBC News analyst James Oberg, who provided testimony on the Chinese space program to a Senate subcommittee last month, says the reports are based on a misreading of statements from top space official Wang Yongzhi. Oberg pointed to the Xinhua version of Wang's comments, which makes clear the official is talking about the initial lunar probe in China's Chang'e moon program.

"He said that their first [lunar] probe would be unmanned because it would be too expensive to build it big enough to carry an astronaut. That's true. It has nothing to do with later missions," Oberg said in an e-mail advisory about the wire reports.

"There have never been 'official man-on-the-moon plans' in China, although there was some wild nongovernment speculation and some mistranslated interviews in the past year," Oberg observed. "Since such a step is at least 10 to 15 years off, no official decisions would yet have been made, anyway."
Oberg said "the Chinese unmanned lunar program will continue, with an orbiter in December 2006, followed by landers and rovers and samplers." As for China's plans beyond that ... stay tuned.


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