The Chang’e 4 mission is planned for sometime before 2020, Zou Yongliao from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ moon exploration department told state broadcaster CCTV in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.
Zou said the mission’s objective would be to study geological conditions on the moon’s far side, also known as the dark side.
That could eventually lead to the placement of a radio telescope for use by astronomers, something that would help “fill a void” in man’s knowledge of the universe, Zou said.
Radio transmissions from Earth are unable to reach the moon’s far side, making it an excellent location for sensitive instruments.
China’s next lunar mission is scheduled for 2017, when it will attempt to land an unmanned spaceship on the moon before returning to Earth with samples. If successful, that would make China only the third country after the United States and Russia to have carried out such a maneuver.
China’s lunar exploration program, named Chang’e after a mythical goddess, has already launched a pair of orbiting lunar probes, and in 2013 landed a craft on the moon with a rover onboard.
China has also hinted at a possible crewed mission to the moon.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and has powered ahead with a series of methodically timed steps, including the deploying of an experimental space station.
Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who revealed the existence of a wide-ranging US online surveillance program, has requested asylum from Ecuador, the government’s foreign minister has announced.
Snowden arrived in Moscow earlier today after leaving Hong Kong, where he had sought refuge from US charges of espionage and theft, following White House confirmation that the US had begun the extradition process with the city’s semi-autonomous government.
Aboard Aeroflot flight SU213, Snowden landed in the Russian capital just after 5pm local time with a companion from online activist group Wikileaks, who helped the former intelligence officer leave China.
It is believed that Snowden will tomorrow travel from Moscow to a final destination that is yet to be disclosed. However, according to Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca, he has now filed a formal bid for protection from the Latin American country.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has claimed his organisation helped Snowden leave Hong Kong in search of “political asylum in a democratic country,” but did not specify his target nation.
Assange, who has himself been avoiding extradition in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over a year, told The Sydney Morning Herald: “He will be met by diplomats from the country that will be his ultimate destination. Diplomats from that country will accompany him on a further flight to his destination.”
He added: “Owing to WikiLeaks‘ own circumstances, we have developed significant expertise in international asylum and extradition law, associated diplomacy and the practicalities in these matters. I have great personal sympathy for Ed Snowden’s position.”
A statement from the Hong Kong government confirmed that Snowden left the Chinese city to a third country this morning, adding: “The United States previously requested Hong Kong to issue a provisional arrest warrant for Mr Snowden.
“Because the US request failed to fully comply with the requirements under Hong Kong law, the US Department of Justice was asked to provide further information. The failure to provide sufficient information in this case meant there was no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden’s departure.”
In response, the US Department of Justice said they would continue to seek extradition elsewhere. “We have been informed by the Hong Kong authorities Mr Snowden has departed for a third country,” a spokeswoman said. “We will continue to discuss this mater with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr Snowden may be attempting to travel.”
Speculation surrounding Snowden’s plans has continued throughout the day with possible final destinations being named in reports as Venezuela, Iceland, Cuba and Ecuador.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a source at the Aeroflot airline as saying there is a ticket in Snowden’s name for an onward flight to Cuba that leaves tomorrow and a subsequent booking on a local flight to Caracas, Venezuela.
The source added that Snowden did not have a Russian visa and would therefore wait for his connecting flight in the airport’s transit area. “In this case, he will not need to pass border control. Thus, the law enforcement agencies of our country will not be able to stop him,” the source reportedly said.
However, an embassy vehicle carrying the Ecuadorian ambassador to Russia was photographed arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport shortly after Snowden landed.
Speaking with The Guardian, Ambassador Patricio Chavez said he had not spoken with Snowden, did not know where he was and would not confirm whether he had been seen by Ecuadorian officials. Asked why he was there, Chavez reportedly said: “We have an interest in knowing what is happening to him.”
A spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin said they were unaware of Snowden’s location or plans, but US politicians have hit out at the former Cold War enemy for not already intervening on their behalf.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told CNN: “Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now, of course, with Snowden. I think it’ll have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship.”
The news comes amid new allegations by Snowden that the NSA ‘prism’ program was used to hack Chinese mobile phone data, which could have impacted on China’s compliance with extradition proceedings.
An editorial in China’s official state news agency, which is believed to represent the government’s feelings, labelled the US a “villain” and demanded an explanation of its activities.
The Xinhua statement said: “These, along with previous allegations, are clearly troubling signs. They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber-attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”
The request from the United States that Hong Kong detain Edward J. Snowden, who has been accused of stealing government secrets, before it seeks his return to America is likely to set off a tangled and protracted fight, with Mr. Snowden and his legal advisers having multiple tools to delay or thwart his being surrendered to American officials.
Mr. Snowden’s exact location was unclear Saturday, though he was believed to be hiding in a safe house in Hong Kong after leaving a hotel room two weeks ago upon revealing that he was the one who had leaked details of American surveillance efforts to the media. Hong Kong police officials would not comment Saturday about Mr. Snowden’s whereabouts.
Stephen Vickers, who oversaw police criminal intelligence in Hong Kong before Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, said Saturday that the Hong Kong police had certainly figured out where Mr. Snowden was hiding and should be able to detain him once Hong Kong government lawyers determined that the charges Mr. Snowden faced in the United States were also legal offenses in Hong Kong.
“I have no doubt whenever the government decides to take action, they will pick him up fast,” said Mr. Vickers, who now runs a risk consulting firm.
He said the United States government had been “terribly slow” to prepare charges, giving more time for human rights activists to find legal avenues for Mr. Snowden to pursue to avoid being surrendered to United States law enforcement officials.
If the Hong Kong police detain him, Mr. Snowden can appeal to a magistrate for his release. But he faces another complication: his 90-day tourist visa in Hong Kong runs out in mid-August, giving the local authorities another reason to keep him in custody.
The more daunting challenge facing the United States is its expected request to have Mr. Snowden sent back to America to face charges that he violated the Espionage Act and stole government property.
In recent weeks, Mr. Snowden’s plight has been seized on by myriad groups: by Hong Kong’s vocal human rights movement, by pro-Beijing activists attracted to his defiance of the United States and by those angered by Mr. Snowden’s claims that Hong Kong was itself a target of American surveillance. And with such a potent issue stirring passions here and abroad, lawyers will likely swarm over the case. (Mr. Snowden’s legal advisers have yet to come forward.)
Mr. Snowden and his lawyers could tie up any effort to send him back to the United States by claiming that “his offense is a political offense,” said Regina Ip, a former Hong Kong secretary of security and a current legislator, who added that such a claim would have “to go through various levels of our courts.” America’s treaty with Hong Kong covering the surrender of suspects has an exception for political offenses.
Alternatively, Mr. Snowden could apply for asylum. Currently, asylum claims in Hong Kong, which Hong Kong officials handle in cooperation with the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, face delays of several years. Nazneen Farooqi, a local protection officer with the United Nations agency, did not address Mr. Snowden’s situation directly, but suggested that a case would not be fast-tracked, because “we prioritize older cases.” And asylum applicants can be held in detention for weeks, months or even longer.
Finally, China could apply behind-the-scenes pressure to slow the effort to have Mr. Snowden turned over. Hong Kong enjoys legal autonomy from mainland China, but Beijing can intervene in diplomatic and defense matters.
While Chinese officials have steered away from commenting on the specifics of Mr. Snowden’s plight, government and Communist Party-controlled news outlets have been increasingly sympathetic. An opinion piece in the state-run China Daily on Thursday suggested that “Snowden’s crime, if any, pales in comparison with the actions of the U.S. officials who authorized and operated the cyberespionage program.”
If Mr. Snowden is arrested, he faces one of two possibilities: He remains in detention, or he persuades a magistrate to grant him bail, which one lawyer with experience in Hong Kong surrender cases called a possibility. Still, bail would mean Mr. Snowden would need to report to the police once a day, and it would be nearly impossible to leave Hong Kong (so a trip to Iceland, one of his desired destinations, would be out of the question while his case was being adjudicated).
Should he go to jail, Mr. Snowden would “have slightly greater privileges than prisoners” elsewhere in Hong Kong, said the lawyer, who did not want his name published because of the passions surrounding he case.
“Conditions in the jails here are better than in Britain or the U.S.,” the lawyer said. “He will be given the choice of Chinese or Western food,” and would have more visiting rights than regular prisoners.
And, the lawyer said, Mr. Snowden would have access to books in prison, “but no computers.”