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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

One Small Step for China Dream

BEIJING -- China displayed the first image of the moon captured by its Chang'e 1 lunar probe at a gala ceremony Monday, marking the formal start of the satellite's mission to document the lunar landscape.

Unveiling the image at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, Premier Wen Jiabao hailed it as a major step in "the Chinese race's 1,000-year dream" of exploring the moon. The black and white image clearly showed craters on the moon's surface.

China hopes that the probe, launched late last month, will have surveyed the entire surface of the moon at least once by early next year.

The probe's launch closely followed the start of a similar mission by Japan, prompting speculation over a new space race in Asia.

Chinese officials, however, have played down talk of such competition, saying Beijing wanted to use its program to work with other countries and hoped to join in building the international space station.

"We have a very open program and we are willing to cooperate according to common international practices," said Sun Laiyan, head of the China National Space Administration.

In 2003, China became only the third country in the world after the United States and Russia to send a human into Earth's orbit, following that up with a two-man mission in 2005. But Sun said China had no plans to put a man on the moon -- yet.

"For the time being we have no plans to send any Chinese onto the moon," he said.

"So please do not put even more pressure on our shoulders. But having said that, I'm confident that one day China will send its taikonaut to the moon, and I hope to see that day," Sun said at a news conference, using the Chinese term for astronaut.

The Chang'e 1 satellite, slung into space by a Long March 3A rocket, will survey the moon's surface using stereo radar and other tools as a precursor to a planned lunar landing in 2012 and a mission to gather lunar samples by 2020.

Chinese space officials have said they were being careful not to travel territory already covered by the space programs of Russia, the United States, Japan and the European Space Agency.

China's space program is backed by the country's secretive military. Beijing insists that it is committed to a peaceful space program, pointing to numerous potential applications for its technology.