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Friday, 17 January, 2003, 16:01 GMT
Chinese space effort eyes October
Shenzhou IV, AFP
Scientists retrieve their experiments from Shenzhou IV
China has given another clear indication that it intends to put a man in orbit before the end of 2003.

"There are plans to launch Shenzhou V in October this year," said a research official at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which develops the country's rocket carriers and spacecraft.

The official, who would only give his surname, Lee, said an exact date had yet to be decided.

"This depends on a lot of things," he told the French AFP news agency. "But one thing's for sure, a manned Shenzhou V will be launched this year, around October."

Fighter pilots

This fits with previously reported comments attributed to senior space and Communist Party officials.

The mission, if it takes place, would make China only the third nation after the US and Russia to develop a human spaceflight programme.

Four Shenzhou craft have so far been sent into orbit - and all have returned safely to Earth, according to Chinese officials. These preparatory flights tested life-support systems on a menagerie including rabbits and snails.

Western commentators have for some time now speculated that September or October - the anniversary of the Communist revolution - would be the chosen month for the manned launch.

They also think they know the identity of one of the first taikonauts - the word China will use for its astronauts. They believe it will be Li Qinglong, who is among a group of 14 fighter pilots selected for training.

Vegetable tests

The China Daily newspaper reported this week that the pilots, each with more than 1,000 hours flying experience, had been in training "for years".

Two had been to Russia's cosmonaut school and all had spent time training on the Shenzhou capsule layout, the paper added.

China's fourth unmanned space capsule, Shenzhou IV, was sent into orbit on 30 December. It returned to Earth a week later, on 5 January, landing on the central grasslands of the vast Inner Mongolia region.

It was a 162-hour mission. Officials said the craft was launched with all the prerequisites for a manned flight and even had spare clothes that taikonauts might need to change into.

The Shenzhou craft also carried tests on rice, wheat, cotton, corn, fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The China Daily said the country had so far spent 19 billion yuan ($2.3bn) on its manned space programme.

See also:

05 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
30 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
21 May 02 | Science/Nature
06 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
09 Oct 03 | Science/Nature
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