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China's space programme aims ultimately to establish a manned lunar base—but what for? The dust settles on the Watson affair. Plus, we'll never make artificial life at this rate

By Philip Ball   December 2007

China reaches for the moon

China is on the way to the moon. On 24th October, the unmanned Chang’e 1 lunar probe blasted off from Sichuan province. Its instruments will map out the geology and geochemistry of the lunar surface from orbit. It is the first step in an ambitious programme that aims to conduct robotic exploration before 2020 and ultimately to establish a manned lunar base.

The latter partly explains the current interest in lunar mineralogy. While there are scientific reasons to explore the moon’s chemical composition—searching for clues about how and when it was made—a moon base…

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