BEIJING China, which has yet to put a person on the moon, aims to land probes on more distant Mars to collect samples by 2030, the chief scientist of its lunar orbiter project said in remarks reported on Wednesday.
China's ambition to reach Mars is a reflection of its growing economic might, allowing it to develop its space exploration capability.
Bringing back samples from Mars was set as a top priority in a recent U.S. science priorities review, although the cost has been seen as astronomical. But a planning group put out a report in September on how to accomplish the mission affordably.
Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar orbiter project, was quoted by the official news agency Xinhua as saying that a three-phase probe to Mars was envisaged.
Briefing the Chinese Society of Astronautics on the moon-landing orbiter Chang'e-3, he said that program could help build a telecommunication network that covers a future Mars probe. Chang'e-3 is expected to be launched in the second half of 2013.
The three stages of the Mars probe will entail remote sensing, soft-landing and exploration, and the probe would return after automatic sampling, Ouyang said.
(Reporting By Lucy Hornby; Editing by Mark Heinrich)