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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
China puts its first man in space
Long March rocket carrying astronaut into space
The rocket blasted off from Jiuquan in the Gobi desert
China's first manned spacecraft has entered orbit, making it the third country to send a human into space.

A Long March 2F rocket blasted off from the Gobi desert launch pad at 0900 (0100 GMT), and the Shenzhou V spacecraft was orbiting Earth 10 minutes later.

The craft, carrying a single astronaut, Yang Liwei, is expected to circle the planet 14 times, returning to Earth after a flight of about 22 hours.

President Hu Jintao was present for the launch, and said it was "the glory of our great motherland and a mark for the initial victory of the country's first manned space flight".

Only the United States and the former Soviet Union had previously sent humans into space.

Yang Liwei
I will not disappoint the motherland
Astronaut Yang Liwei

"I feel good, see you tomorrow," Yang Liwei told mission control from space.

The launch was to have been shown live on national television, but Chinese state TV decided it would only show it later.

However, programmes were interrupted to announce the successful launch.

The English-language channel CCTV-9 echoed the words of American Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to walk on the Moon.

"If these were small steps, then now we are taking a giant leap into space," the announcer said.

National prestige

Yang Liwei, a 38-year-old lieutenant in the People's Liberation Army, was only publicly confirmed as the first astronaut - or yuhangyuan - just before the flight began.

He boarded the capsule almost three hours before blast-off, cheered by a group of balloon-waving children.

Once aloft, he was said to be "reading a flight manual in the capsule of the Shenzhou V spacecraft and looked composed and at ease".

State television said he would be eating freeze-dried shredded pork with garlic sauce and fried rice during his flight, and drinking tea.

The Shenzhou design is based on the Russian Soyuz three-person space capsule, although the Chinese space programme has made wide-ranging changes.

Yuhangyuan - Chinese for space navigator
Used in official media
Taikonaut - derived from taikong, space
Coined by Singapore-based website
The project has become a matter of national prestige, with Shenzhou described in the official media as "China's self-designed manned spaceship".

"I will not disappoint the motherland," Yang Liwei said before boarding the capsule.

"I will complete each movement with total concentration. And I will gain honour for the People's Liberation Army and for the Chinese nation."

People in China are as proud as can be
Helen, Hong Kong

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

From early 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.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"China insists it's still a momentous achievement"


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