Hong Kong - Jul 22, 2003
The much-anticipated historic launch of Shenzhou-5 (SZ-5), the first manned mission in the Chinese space program, may only be a hundred days away, Wen Wei Po in Hong Kong reported yesterday (July 21).
Unnamed sources told the newspaper that the launch could come in about a hundred days "in the timeframe of autumn before [the onset of] winter."
The sources told Wen Wei Po that space officials had determined which yuhangyuan ("astronaut") would pilot the mission. However, they did not disclose the identity of the first crew or the number that would ride on SZ-5.
Senior space officials have said repeatedly that the announcement of the first crew would be made just before the SZ-5 launch, so as to avoid any stress on the crew that might arise from an advance notification.
Fourteen yuhangyuans, including two trainers, have been in intensive training for many months at the Beijing Aerospace City; in the secluded area nicknamed the "Red Chamber".
To date, there has been no official identification of these yuhangyuans. But space officials have approved the publication of three photos that show the faces of two yuhangyuans. Two of these photos appeared widely in the Chinese media during the SZ-4 mission earlier this year.
One of the main reasons for a day launch is that the warmer daytime temperature would improve the working conditions for ground personnel, thereby "further adequately guarantee the safety of the yuhangyuan".
In the first four Shenzhou flights, launch preparation crews often had to endure low temperatures and harsh environmental conditions at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC). The Chinese manned spaceport is located at the edge of the Gobi Desert in the northwestern Gansu Province.
Bitterly cold air, with temperatures below minus 20 degrees Celsius, greeted the launch team during the preparation of Shenzhou 4, with the frigid weather causing a one day launch delay.
The unidentified sources also speculated that there might not be any science experiment on the mission.
They suggested that due to limited space inside the Shenzhou capsule, installation of too many instruments might interfere with the activities of the yuhangyuan and "cause an unsafe factor".
Meanwhile preparation of the critical emergency escape system, both on the launch pad and on the Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F) rocket, is well underway. The launch team recently completed the final assembly of the CZ-2F escape tower motor.
In the event of an emergency in the final 15 minutes of the countdown on the launch pad and during the initial 160 seconds of the CZ-2F ascent, the escape tower motor would fire and pull the entire Shenzhou spacecraft away from the launcher.
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