STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
ANTHONY KUHN: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET ENGINE)
KUHN: Ouyang Ziyuan is the lead scientist with China's Lunar Exploration Program.
OUYANG ZIYUAN: (Through Translator) We will achieve a moon landing. We plan to have a landing module and a moon rover jointly explore the moon. The moon rover will be China's most advanced robot so far.
KUHN: Beijing University space expert Jiao Weixin points out, for example, that the Saturn V rocket that lifted the Apollo 11 into orbit could carry a payload of more than 120 tons. By contrast, China's next-generation Long March 5 rocket will only be able to carry about 25 tons.
JIAO WEIXIN: (Through Translator) This rocket of ours won't be in use until around 2017. That means that after half a century, our rocket's lifting capacity will barely equal the spare change from that of the American rocket. So in the near term, we won't be giving the U.S. any competition.
KUHN: Besides, says Ouyang, much has changed since the U.S.'s Apollo missions.
ZIYUAN: (Through Translator) This is different from the first high tide of space exploration. That was a struggle for hegemony, based on the needs of the Cold War. But now, countries are exploring the moon because they believe it can be exploited and used to support the Earth's development.
KUHN: Ouyang advocates eventually mining the moon for minerals such as titanium and for potential nuclear fuels such as helium-3. He says that the moon holds about a million tons of helium-3.
ZIYUAN: (Through Translator) We could meet the whole world's energy needs with a hundred tons of helium-3 a year. That means we could supply the Earth with enough energy for 10,000 years.
KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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