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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March, 2003, 12:28 GMT
China's first astronaut revealed
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Long, Xinhua
Chen Long (left) should fly in October
(Image by Xinhua)
China has revealed the identity of its first astronaut who will go into space by the end of the year. He is Li Qinglong, a trained pilot who was selected for astronaut training in 1996.

Chinese authorities have released a picture of him in training at the time of the Shenzhou 4 launch in January 2003.

According to the Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao Daily, he will be the only crew member aboard Shenzhou 5, the first Chinese manned spaceflight, planned for October 2003.

There has been speculation as to whether a Shenzhou 5 might carry more than one person, but Chinese officials now seem to be saying that Li Qinglong will be the only person aboard.

Officials say that the flight will take place during the daytime to aid the tracking of the capsule. Previous Shenzhou flights have taken place at night. It may also be carried live on Chinese TV.

At the completion of the unmanned Shenzhou 4 mission, China state television showed two candidate astronauts in a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for sending Chinese astronauts into space.

After the Shenzhou 4 flight, Chinese media said the capsule, based on Russia's Soyuz, carried all the equipment necessary for manned flight and tested life-support equipment.

It added: "Completion of the successful voyage starts a countdown for China to realise its ambitions of becoming the third country to put people in orbit."

Li Qinglong will be the first Chinese national to go into space but not the first person born in China.

US astronaut Shannon Lucid was born in Shanghai and has completed five space shuttle flights. Taylor Gun-Jin Wang was also born in Shanghai in 1940 and became an American citizen in 1975 and has flown on the space shuttle once.

Chinese space effort eyes October
17 Jan 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Chinese spacecraft lands
05 Jan 03  |  Asia-Pacific
China launches new space mission
30 Dec 02  |  Science/Nature

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