Beijing (AP) — China says it will launch its first unmanned lunar lander by the end of this year.
The Chang'e 3 lander will carry a radio-controlled rover to transmit images and dig into the moon's surface to test samples.
The State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense said Wednesday the lander had officially entered the launch stage. Chang'e 3 and another lander will remain on the moon's surface, although China plans to follow those with landers that will return to Earth with samples.
A crewed lunar mission could also be launched if officials decide to combine the human spaceflight and lunar exploration programs.
China has recently focused on the manned flight program, sending two missions to temporarily crew the Tiangong 1 experimental space station, launched in 2011.