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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 00:50 GMT 01:50 UK
China space launch counts down
Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre
Excitement is mounting ahead of the launch
China is making final preparations for the launch of its first manned space flight.

A rocket carrying the Shenzhou V spacecraft could blast off from the Gobi desert launch pad as early as Wednesday morning, with excellent weather reported in the area.

There has been no official word on who will fly the craft, but Hong Kong media said the favourite was Yang Liwei, a 38-year-old from China's north east.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders are believed to have flown to the Jiuquan space base to watch the launch, which would see China become only the third nation to put a man in space.

HAVE YOUR SAY
China will be the dominant force in the world in coming future.
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But Chinese state television has scrapped plans to show the launch footage live, official media said. Instead there would be an unspecified delay before the footage was shown.

The Lanzhou Morning News, the launch site's local paper, said the decision followed the "suggestions of aerospace experts".

Correspondents said the government could be worried about the possibility of public disappointment and criticism if the launch were a failure.

The area around the launch site has been sealed off, with soldiers stopping all vehicles 35km (20 miles) from the Jiuquan launch centre.

On Wednesday morning, people were reported to be driving out of Jiuquan city, over 200km (125 miles) to the south, to try to catch sight of the launch.

Hundreds of enthusiasts are heading towards the edge of the launch zone, according to the AFP news agency.

Timing

If the launch is successful, China will join Russia and the United States as the only nations to send a man into space.

CHINA'S SPACEMEN
Yuhangyuan - Chinese for space navigator
Used in official media
Taikonaut - derived from taikong, space
Coined by Singapore-based website
China broke its official secrecy surrounding the launch on Friday when the official Xinhua news agency announced it would take place between 15 and 17 October.

Analysts have long speculated that 15 October would be a likely launch date, coming a day after a key Communist Party meeting in Beijing.

A pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper on Tuesday identified the leading candidate to be China's first spaceman as Yang Liwei, and the second and third candidates as Zhai Zhigang and Nie Haisheng.

Yang was brought up in the north-east "rustbelt" of Liaoning, and is the son of a teacher and an official from an agricultural firm, a local party official told Reuters news agency.

The Shenzhou 5 is expected to orbit the Earth 14 times before landing about 21 hours after launch at a "pre-selected area", unnamed space officials have told Xinhua.

A report in the Jiefang Daily said the spacecraft was likely to be launched during the daytime and be carried by a Long March CZ-2 F rocket.

"The rocket that will launch Shenzhou 5 is the best of all," said Huang Chunping, commander-in-chief of the rocket system.

"It is of superior quality and has withstood the most stringent tests."

Diagram, BBC




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