China plans to launch its first manned space mission in October in the quest to become only the third country to send a human into orbit, an official at the country's space program told AFP Friday.
"There are plans to launch Shenzhou V in October this year," said a research official at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., which develops the rocket carriers and the spacecraft.
The official, who would only gives his surname, Lee, said an exact date had yet to be decided.
"This depends on a lot of things," he said. "But one thing's for sure, a manned Shenzhou V will be launched this year, around October."
The China Daily on Thursday said 14 former fighter pilots, each with more than 1,000 hours flying experience, had been in training as astronauts "for years".
Two were sent to Russia's cosmonaut school and all spent a week in April training in the recently returned unmanned Shenzhou IV capsule.
Qi Faren, the general designer of the Shenzhou spacecraft, told the paper the manned craft will "fly for at least one day in space".
Up to three astronauts are expected to be onboard.
Late last month Shanghai Aerospace Bureau director Yuan Jie said the success of Shenzhou IV, which returned to earth on January 5 after a 162-hour mission, opened the door for a manned mission later this year.
Officials said that craft was launched with all the prerequisites for a manned flight and even had spare clothes that astronauts might need to change into. All the instruments and equipment performed well.
China has so far launched four unmanned spacecraft in its bid to become only the third nation to send a human into orbit, after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Chinese space officials have said they are working towards a permanently manned space station and a possible landing on the moon.
While officials have stressed China's space industry is being developed "for the purpose of peaceful use of space" there are underlying military connotations.
The government mouthpiece People's Daily Friday carried a lengthy interview with Huang Chunping, commander-in-chief of China's Long Range 2F rocket which propels the spacecraft into orbit. He indicated that security was also an issue.
"Just imagine, there are outer space facilities of another country at a place very, very high above your head, and so others clearly see what you are doing and what you are feeling," he said.
"That's why we also need to develop space technology."
The Chinese space programme, set up in 1992, is run by the military and is shrouded in official secrecy.
However, a military official engaged in "strategy research" was quoted in the same report as saying advanced space technology was necessary to prevent China from being "bullied" by others.
"In the current and future state security strategy, if one wants not to be controlled by others, one must have the considerable space scientific and technological strength, otherwise one will be bullied by others."
China's manned space program has taken on mammoth proportions, employing tens of thousands of scientific, manufacturing and planning personnel in more than 3,000 factories.
The China Daily said 19 billion yuan (2.3 billion US dollars) had so far been spent on putting a man in space.
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Shenzhou Pace To Pick Up As First Manned Mission Approaches
Sydney - Jan 06, 2003
China's Shenzhou human spaceflight program has held the world's attention for more then four years, but day-by-day activity has been somewhat scarce. The best way to examine this gradually evolving episode in the history of space travel is to hit the rewind button of journalism, then watch the results on fast forward.
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