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    Russia, China could sign Moon exploration pact in 2006

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    Russia and China may conclude a Moon exploration agreement by the end of the year, the head of the Russian Space Agency said.

    MOSCOW, September 11 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and China may conclude a Moon exploration agreement by the end of the year, the head of the Russian Space Agency said.

    China has already successfully launched into orbit two manned space vehicles. Its first manned flight three years ago made it the third country to launch a human being into space on its own, after Russia and the U.S.

    "I can say that as a result of the Russian-Chinese space sub-commission's work, our priority is a joint program on Moon exploration," Anatoly Perminov said. "A number of contracts have been signed involving both Russian and Chinese enterprises."

    "We are currently working on the Moon as partners, and we have concluded that Russia and China have moved beyond their previous relationship, when China was a buyer and we [Russia] were a seller," Perminov said.

    He also said he received an invitation to visit leading air and space enterprises in Shanghai.

    "China is now a leading space power - right now, only three countries explore space intensively, namely Russia, the United States and China," he said.

    Perminov said the Russian-Chinese Space Exploration Commission will hold a concluding session in Beijing by the end of 2006, and that the Russian delegation will be led by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.

    "The work of our sub-commission should create a favorable context for the visit of our [Russian] prime minister to China," he said. "We have already adopted a cooperation program with China for 2007-2009."

    Perminov also said China may sign a contract to participate in a Russian project to bring soil back from one of Mars' moons - Phobos.

    "One of the directions we are working in is a flight to Phobos, with Chinese participation, which will bring back some of its soil to Earth," Perminov said. "We plan to reach the final stage [of our talks] by the end of 2006, possibly even by the start of the sub-commission's work under Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.

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