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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
China space launch date 'set'
Newspaper on sale in Beijing, 8 October
Speculation about the launch has been mounting in China's media
China plans to launch its first manned space flight during the morning of 15 October, according to a state-run newspaper.

A report in the Liberation Daily backed up earlier claims that the Shenzhou 5 would be launched on that date and possibly shown live on television.

But in an indication of official nervousness ahead of the launch, the mission's publicity department has dismissed the reports as hearsay.

According to the Liberation Daily, only one spaceman, known in Chinese as a "yuhangyuan", is due to go on the mission.

There are several potential candidates, according to the report, all of whom are highly experienced fighter pilots.

China is aiming to become the third nation after the former Soviet Union and the United States to send humans into space.

"China's space technology has been created by China itself," said Xie Guangxuan, director of the government's China Rocket Design Department.

"We started later than Russia and the United States. It's amazing how fast we've been able to do this," he told China's largest website sina.com on Wednesday.

There had been speculation that the launch would not take place until the close, on 14 October, of an important meeting of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing.

A leading space expert, Chen Lan, had earlier said the leadership would not want to miss the launch.

"I believe some of them, like [former president and military chief] Jiang Zemin, will want to be at the launch site to witness the launch," he said.

Space ambition

A BBC correspondent says there are signs that Chinese ambitions in space go far beyond a manned space flight.

A top defence official, Wang Shuquan, confirmed that the country was planning lunar landings after it succeeded in putting a man in space.

And the state-run Beijing Youth Daily newspaper reported that China planned to send a research satellite to orbit the moon within the next three years.

A lunar orbiter would be launched by rocket and reach the moon in eight or nine days, the paper said.

It would circle the moon for a year, gathering information about the lunar geology, soil, environment and natural resources, it added.

But our correspondent says that what happens to those plans is likely to depend on the success of China's first manned space flight.

A successful launch is likely to spark an outpouring of national pride, boosting the credibility of the Communist Party.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: China
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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