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China's space program defends its lunar photos

China dismissed skeptical statements that its lunar photos had been copied from the American ones, saying, they were authentic.

China last week presented the first picture taken by its Chang'e 1 lunar probe at a gala ceremony attended by Premier Wen Jiabao, part of the ruling Communist Party's program of using the space program to instill national pride.

However, critics posting on Chinese-language Internet sites questioned the image's authenticity, saying it was all but identical to a photo captured by a U.S. lunar orbiter two years ago.

Commentators questioned how the Chinese image were of the exact same spot on the moon, given its size.

Lunar program chief scientist Ouyang Ziyuan insisted the Chinese image was real.

"Because China and the United States took the images in the same region, it's natural the two pictures look alike," Ouyang said in remarks carried Monday by the Xinhua News Agency and other state media outlets. "But through careful observation you will see there are some nuances," Ouyang said.

Questions about the lunar image recall conspiracy theories such as those claiming the U.S. lunar landings were filmed on a sound stage.

However, they also reflect growing skepticism about Chinese government propaganda and a tendency by the military-linked space program to embellish such images. Two years ago, wire services were forced to recall pictures of two Chinese astronauts after it was determined that head shots of them had merely been cut and pasted onto photographs of identical space suits.

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