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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 12:24 GMT
China celebrates successful launch
Rocket, AFP
The Long March 2F rocket launched on Monday
China's latest test flight of a Shenzhou space capsule is going well, according to the country's state media.

[The launch] showed the Chinese people's spirit of constantly striving to become stronger

President Jiang Zemin
The Shenzhou III craft, with dummy astronauts on board, was launched atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Space Launch Centre in Gansu Province on Monday.

Reports say the space vehicle entered its pre-set orbit shortly after blast-off at 2215 Beijing time (1415 GMT).

The craft, which is said to consist of an orbital module, re-entry module, propulsion section and access section, will orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes and will remain in space for "a couple of days", China Daily said.

Animal tests

"The successful launches of three Shenzhou spaceships take the country to new heights of space science and technology," Chinese President Jiang Zemin was quoted as saying after witnessing the launch at Jiuquan.

The launch "showed the Chinese people's spirit of constantly striving to become stronger," he said.

Shenzhou I AFP
Details about the first mission were given out only after a safe landing
China is aiming to become the third nation to put a human in space after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The first test flight of the Shenzhou (Divine Vessel) programme was in November 1999, when a capsule orbited the Earth 14 times in a 12-hour mission aimed at testing launch and re-entry systems.

Shenzhou II, launched in January 2001, circled the Earth 108 times and tested life support systems - it put a monkey, a dog, a rabbit and snails into orbit. It returned nearly a week later to a press blackout that left Western analysts suspecting a re-entry failure. The Chinese authorities denied this.

Future goals

The Xinhua news agency said Chinese scientists had designed life sciences, materials, astronomy and physics experiments to be performed during the latest flight.

Shenzhou III's simulated astronauts were equipped with a system to test the human body's responses to conditions in outer space, China Daily said.

Technicians on the ground could control the dummy to monitor a real astronaut's would-be heartbeat, pulse, breathing, nutritional needs - and even waste disposal - while in orbit, the paper added.

Chen Yan, an independent space expert who monitors the Chinese space programme on his Go Taikonauts website, said: "If the Shenzhou III does not encounter any problems, then China could put a man in space as early as next year."

A corps of astronauts - dubbed Taikonauts, from the Chinese word for outer space - have been training for some time.

Space officials have said that a goal of China's space programme is to put a Chinese astronaut on the Moon one day.

See also:

18 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Space animals make safe return
15 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
China pleased with space mission
22 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
China joins space club
22 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
China's Soviet space heritage
03 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Taikonauts 'ready for 2001'
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