Preparations for the launch of the Chang'e-5 lunar probe in 2017 are going according to plan, even though the remote-controlled lunar exploration rover Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit," which made a successful moon landing in mid-December and is one of the key phases of the program, suffered mechanical problems several weeks ago and has not yet been repaired.

So said the Asian power's leading space scientist Ye Peijian on Saturday in a statement to the official news agency Xinhua, when he announced that, in order to "assure the mission's success, a Chang'e-5 test probe will be launched this year to practice the route," though he did not name the date.

The final Chang'e-5 probe, part of the third phase of China's lunar program, could bring samples of moon rock back to Earth in the year 2017, which Ye foresees will be "a historic moment" for the Asian country.

The Chinese lunar program is structured in three stages, with the second still in progress after the Chang'e-3 probe landed on the moon last Dec. 14 with the first Chinese rover, the Jade Rabbit, which now needs to be repaired.

Ye said, however, that the mission has already helped China have a "better understanding of lunar space and has paved the way for further explorations."

He therefore considers that the next step, which will be the launch of the Chang'e-4 space probe, should be "more innovative and meaningful," but gave no details about what changes will be made or when it will be launched.

The world's second economy dreams of becoming the first Asian country to land a man on the moon, something that experts say will probably not occur before 2025. EFE