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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
China outlines next space goals
Chinese astronaut Nie Haisheng gets out of the re-entry capsule

China has set out its plans for further space missions, hours after its second manned spaceflight ended successfully.

An official said the next mission would take place in 2007, and would include a space walk. He also said a female astronaut could possibly be onboard.

The Shenzhou VI spacecraft arrived safely back on Earth late on Sunday, after five days in orbit.

The two astronauts touched down in Inner Mongolia, and were then flown to Beijing to face a rapturous reception.

China is only the third country to successfully put a man into space, after Russia and the US.

Beijing has attached great importance to its space programme, viewing it as a source of national pride and international prestige.

"At this moment history is returning dignity and sanctity to the Chinese nation," said the state news agency Xinhua, on news of the successful landing.

Female astronauts

The Shenzhou VI mission completed the first stage of China's manned space programme, which focused on the development of space vehicles, said Tang Xianming, director of the China Space Engineering Office.

The next stage will look at ways for astronauts to walk in space and the ability to dock with other spacecraft, Mr Tang told a news conference.

Yahuo Ye

"Our estimate is that around 2007 we will be able to achieve extravehicular activity by our astronauts and they will walk in space," he told a news conference.

He also said he hoped to see female astronauts take part in missions "in the not-too-distant future", and that some women might be considered in the next round of selections.

Mr Tang added that China had a number of other targets in its space programme, including the launch of a lunar probe and a permanent space station.

Joyful landing

The Shenzhou VI, carrying astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, landed at 0432 on Monday (2032 GMT on Sunday) in the remote grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

The capsule is reported to have landed by parachute only 1km (0.6 miles) from its target.

The two astronauts enjoyed noodles, tea and chocolate before being taken by helicopter to a nearby military air base. "I can feel that lots of people are thinking about us," Nie Haisheng told a TV reporter.

"We're very grateful for all the love and concern from our motherland and its people," he said.

The two men began their journey on Wednesday, from a launch pad in the Gobi desert.

Xinhua said on Sunday that the astronauts had "accomplished the planned experiments and accumulated valuable technical data" during their flight.

"We feel good, our work is going smoothly and our life is happy," Mr Fei was quoted as saying as the craft prepared for re-entry.

Before landing, Shenzhou VI deviated from its planned trajectory because of slight resistance from the Earth's atmosphere.

An adjustment was carried out by firing the craft's thrusters, altering the spacecraft's altitude by 800m (2,625ft), the People's Daily newspaper said.

This latest mission came almost exactly two years after China's first manned space flight. The astronaut chosen for that mission, Yang Liwei, became a national hero.

1. Forward orbital module - crew live and work in this section, which contains scientific equipment. In future missions, this module may remain in space as part of a Chinese space station
2. Re-entry capsule - contains seats for three crew
3. Propulsion module - contains spacecraft's power unit and liquid fuel rocket system
4. Solar panels - spacecraft carries two sets with a total area of 40 sq m, which generate an average 1.5kW of power

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