BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese leaders hailed images sent back from the country’s first lunar satellite on Monday, saying they showed their nation had thrust itself into the front ranks of global technological powers.
Premier Wen Jiabao, visiting the scientists who have guided the lunar probe Chang’e 1 into space and around the moon, proclaimed the mission a complete success.
“The full success of our country’s first lunar exploration mission is helping to turn the Chinese nation’s 1,000-year old dream of reaching the moon a reality,” Wen said.
State television showed the orbiter broadcasting into space “The East is Red,” the Communist Party’s old anthem to a rising China, when Wen visited. The revolutionary tune was also broadcast by China’s first satellite in 1970.
The picture on the Xinhua Web site (www.xinhuanet.com) showed a patch of grey moon surface splotched with craters.
Even as hundreds of millions of Chinese struggle in rural hardship, the ruling Communist Party is committed to clambering into the select ranks of global space powers, and Chang’e 1’s journey has been accompanied by a stream of patriotic propaganda.
In 2003, China became only the third country to put a man into space using its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States. It then sent two astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI rocket in October 2005.
China plans to launch its third manned rocket, Shenzhou VII, into space in October 2008 and may send an astronaut on a space walk, a Shanghai paper said.
But a space official downplayed plans to put a man on the moon.
“There are no plans at the moment to send anyone on to the moon. I’ve heard of foreign reports which say China will put a man on the moon by 2020, but I don’t know of such a plan,” said Sun Laiyan, head of the China National Space Administration.
“Please don’t give us any more pressure. But I’m confident one day we’ll put an astronaut on the moon,” he told a news conference.
The official China Daily newspaper said last month China planned to put a man on the moon “within 15 years”.
Wen said the probe’s success showed the world that “the Chinese people have the will, confidence and ability to constantly compose fine new chapters as we scale the peaks of modern science and technology”.
“The Chinese nation is fully able to stand tall among the world’s ranks of advanced nations.”
But other Asian powers have also announced plans to make a stake on the moon. And fears of potential military rivalry in space with the United States have mounted since China blew up one of its own weather satellites using a ground-based missile in January.
Japan plans to launch its first mission to land a spacecraft on the moon in the next decade, a feat so far achieved only by the former Soviet Union and the United States.
The Chang’e 1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket on October 24 from the southwestern province of Sichuan.
Reporting by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani