China has revealed further details of its plans to explore the Moon – the first unmanned probe could be launched by 2005, say officials. They also hinted that the motivation for the missions is to mine the Moon’s resources.

The lunar program, named Chang’e after a legend about a fairy that visits the moon, would be in three phases. First an orbiter would be sent to the Moon, followed by a lander, and then finally a sample return craft.

“We will be able to embark on a maiden unmanned mission within two and a half years if the government endorses the scheme now,” Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China’s lunar exploration programme, told The People’s Daily.

However, a firm timetable for these missions has not been announced and funding has yet to be approved. More here.