China and Russia plan to launch a joint mission to Mars in 2009 to scoop up samples from the Red Planet and one of its moons, a Chinese scientist was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
Russia will launch the spacecraft, while China will provide the survey equipment to carry out the unmanned exploration, Ye Peijian, a senior scientist at the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, told a meeting in Beijing, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Other Chinese news reports identified the joint mission as Russia's Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-Soil) expedition. That mission calls for an unmanned probe to be sent to the Martian moon Phobos to collect samples for return to Earth. The probe also would monitor Martian climate and the radiation environment — but earlier mission plans had not called for samples to be taken from the Martian surface itself.
The mission would be another step in China's ambitious program to jump to the forefront of space exploration.
Last month, Sun Laiyan, head of the China National Space Administration, said China would seek international cooperation as it prepares to explore Earth's moon and beyond.
China expects to launch its first lunar probe next year, state media has said. It will spend a year orbiting the moon to collect images and data on the moon's surface and environment.
In 2003, China became only the third country — after the United States and Soviet Union — to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket.
In October 2005, it sent two men into orbit, and another manned orbit is slated for 2007.