updated 3/22/2004 12:10:07 PM ET 2004-03-22T17:10:07

China plans to launch its first moon rover in 2012 as part of its ambitious space exploration program, state media reported.

The vehicle's main purpose would be to provide information on where to set up a base on the moon, the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper said Sunday, citing Ouyang Ziyuan, lead scientist of the country's lunar probe program.

The rover would carry a camera, a telescope and seismological gear to register quake activity on the moon, the report said.

The rover is part of the three-phase lunar probe program, also called "Chang'e," after a fairy in Chinese folklore who flies to the moon.

The first phase is under way, with Chinese scientists building a two-ton lunar probe that is to be launched by 2007 and orbit the moon for at least 12 months, state media has reported. It would take three-dimensional lunar images, measure the density of the moon's soil and explore its environment.

The official Xinhua News Agency put the price tag of the first phase at $170 million.

The satellite launch is to be followed by a moon landing by an unmanned vehicle by 2010 and soil sample collection by 2020, Xinhua said. China's top space official has also said the country wants to land a human on the moon that same year.

Since the success of its landmark manned space launch last October, China has raised the profile of its once-secret, military-linked space program and regularly releases information about plans for further exploration.

It is now the third country in the world to successfully accomplish manned spaceflight.

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