updated 10/31/2005 5:57:41 PM ET 2005-10-31T22:57:41

Russia and China may cooperate in a lunar exploration program that would culminate with a manned moon mission within less than two decades, the Interfax news agency quoted a Russian space official as saying Monday.

China has asked Russia to help with an unmanned lunar probe program, Interfax quoted Federal Space Agency deputy chief Yuri Nosenko as saying in China, ahead of a meeting between the two countries' prime ministers in Beijing on Wednesday.

That Chinese program, which would only involve Russian assistance, could be followed by a joint lunar study and exploration program — possibly in 2012, when Russia is planning to launch a research probe to the moon, Nosenko said, according to the report.

After that, "We may undertake a joint project designed for 5-10 years" that would end with a manned moon mission," Interfax quoted Nosenko as saying.

Nosenko also said that Russia has proposed that the two countries develop a small satellite to orbit Mars.

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