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Japan Eyes Manned Moon Base

Japan's plans to start building a manned base on the moon and a manned space shuttle within the next 20 years, a newspaper report said Monday.

Japan's space agency, JAXA, is drawing up plans to develop a robot to conduct probes on the moon by 2015, then begin constructing a solar-powered manned research base on the planet and design a reusable manned space vessel like the U.S. space shuttle by 2025, the Mainichi Shimbun said.

The space agency's budget could be boosted six-fold to $57 billion to assist those plans, the Mainichi said.

The plans also include using satellites to send information on evacuation routes, locators on people's whereabouts and alerts to cell phones in the event of major emergencies like a tsunami, the daily said.

JAXA officials were unavailable for immediate comment late Monday.

Japan has long focused on unmanned scientific probes. In a major policy switch last year, however, a government panel recommended that the country consider its own manned space program.

Long Asia's leading spacefaring nation, Japan has been struggling to get out from under the shadow of China, which put its first astronaut into orbit in October 2003. Beijing has since announced it is aiming for the moon.

One month after China's breakthrough, a Japanese H-2A rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned after liftoff, forcing controllers to end its mission in a spectacular fireball.

Further launches were put on hold for 15 months, but on Saturday Japan took a big step to re-establish the credibility of its space program with the successful launch of a domestically designed H-2A rocket that placed a communications satellite into orbit.

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