Joining a swelling group of countries shooting for the moon, Japan is considering a plan to establish a manned lunar base by 2025, officials...

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TOKYO — Joining a swelling group of countries shooting for the moon, Japan is considering a plan to establish a manned lunar base by 2025, officials said yesterday.

Officials at Japan’s space agency, JAXA, confirmed the mission was under consideration but said the plan hasn’t been formally accepted. A report outlining the plan is expected to be submitted to the government this month or in early April.

“The building of a manned moon base is part of our long-term plan, looking to about 20 years from now,” said Hisashi Dobashi, a JAXA official. If approved, the mission would mark a major change of direction for Japan’s space program, which has for decades focused on unmanned, scientific probes.

It also would up the ante in an increasingly heated space race in Asia. China and India have announced moon missions, and President Bush has said the United States will return to the moon in the next decade or so and will try to send astronauts to Mars.

Dobashi refused to discuss details of the plan, which would require a huge influx of funds. JAXA has a yearly budget of about $2 billion, compared with NASA’s $16.2 billion.

According to a report Monday in the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, JAXA officials hope to develop a robot to conduct probes on the moon by 2010 and begin building a solar-powered research base on the moon and design a reusable manned space vessel such as the U.S. space shuttle by 2025.

China, which put its first astronaut into orbit in October 2003, has since announced it is aiming to put a person on the moon. India said last year it would send a manned mission to the moon by 2015 but is reconsidering because of the high cost. Japan’s space program has been plagued by failures in recent years. One month after China’s first manned mission, 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 Saturday, Japan took a big step toward re-establishing the credibility of its space program with the successful launch of an H-2A rocket that placed a communications and navigation satellite into orbit.