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Chinese media name likely astronauts
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  • SHANGHAI (AFP) Sep 28, 2005
    China's state-run press on Wednesday named the likely astronauts to pilot the nation's second manned space flight tenatively scheduled to be launched during the first 20-days of October.

    "At present, the team of Zhai Zhigang and Nie Haisheng has the biggest possibility of undertaking the task of piloting the Shenzhou VI," the Shanghai Morning Post said, citing unnamed space experts.

    "But adjustments can still be made up until the last minute and no one is willing to guarantee who will go up," it said.

    Officials at the China National Space Administration refused to confirm or deny the reports.

    Zhai and Nie are one of three teams of finalists in the running to pilot the Shenzhou VI, whittled down from a pool of 14 former fighter pilots who are being trained as China's first generation of astronauts.

    China has kept the details of its fledgling manned space program securely under wraps, revealing little about the time of launches and the people who will fly the craft until the last momment.

    The launch date of China's historic first manned space flight, the Shenzhou V, was only announced five days before the flight, but neither the launch nor the return of the capsule were broadcast live on television.

    Yang Liwei, China's first man in space, was chosen to fly the Shenzhou V only hours before the launch.

    "At present the Shenzhou VI is still undergoing the testing of its systems, but it can be confirmed that the launch will happen in the first 20 days of October," the paper said.

    The timing matched the "likely" date of October 13 that was reported on Sunday by the China News Service.

    Both reports cautioned that the weather or any last minute adjustments to the spacecraft and its Long March 2F carrier rocket could push back the launch date.

    The Shenzhou VI is expected to orbit Earth for five days with the two astronauts conducting experiments in the flight module and an orbital vehicle that will remain in space for months after the astronauts return to earth.

    China, the third country to put a man in space following the former Soviet Union and the United States, hopes to launch a mission to probe the moon by 2007 and land an unmanned vehicle on it by 2017.

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