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China eyes commercial space flights in 20 years
BEIJING (AFP) Nov 03, 2004
China can expect to see the first commercial space flights in 20 years, the head of the country's space program was quoted as saying by state media Wednesday.

Chinese people "are expected to realize their dream of space travel in 20 years," Yuan Jiajun, chief commander of the the program and president of the China Academy of Space Technology, said Tuesday at a symposium.

Two problems that must first be addressed before "space tourism" can be realized are lowering the cost and ensuring safety, Yuan said.

He vowed that China would "establish a sound mechanism to commercialize its space technology."

Currently China's space research mainly serves defense purposes, said Yuan.

In the near future, however, it will be extensively used for civil service and will bring more benefits to common people, Yuan said.

His comments were further indication China intends to be a major player in space.

Yuan cited as an example of the potential the launch last month of SpaceShipOne, which blasted into space from Mojave, California, marking the first privately-built manned spacecraft to carry out sub-orbital flight.

The flawless mission was piloted by former US navy test pilot Brian Binnie.

China officially announced this week it would launch its second manned space flight next year and the mission would orbit the Earth for five days with two astronauts onboard.

For the first time, Chinese astronauts will enter and live in the orbital module of the spacecraft to do scientific experiments, the China Aerospace Science and Technology group said.

China's first-ever manned flight, Shenzhou V, orbited the Earth for 21 hours last October with astronaut Yang Liwei remaining in his seat in the return capsule of the three module craft for the entire mission.

It made China only the third country to send a man into orbit, after the Soviet Union and the United States.

China also plans to launch a satellite to orbit the moon by 2007, to be followed by the landing of an unmanned vehicle on the moon by 2010 and the collecting of samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle by 2020.

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