China To Launch Manned Space Craft Next Week: Official
After months of secrecy, China confirmed Friday it will launch its maiden manned space mission next week with a flight that will orbit the Earth 14 times.
The Xinhua news agency cited an unnamed official in charge of the country's manned spaceflight program as saying Shenzhou V will blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwest between October 15 and 17.
He said the craft would orbit the Earth 14 times, suggesting the flight will last 21 hours.
This would distinguish China from the former Soviet Union and the United States, the only other nations to send a man into space, whose maiden flights in the 1960s lasted 108 minutes and 15 minutes respectively.
"The Shenzhou (Divine Vessel) V spacecraft will carry out the first manned space mission and will lift off from the China Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center," said the official.
"Now all preparatory work for the launch is progressing smoothly."
Analysts and various media have long speculated that, weather permitting, October 15 was the favoured date, coming a day after a key communist party meeting wraps up in Beijing.
October 16 has also been cited as a possibility as it coincides with the 39th anniversary of the detonation of China's first atomic bomb.
President Hu Jintao leaves for the APEC summit in Thailand on October 17.
Xinhua is reportedly one of only three media being given access to the launch, along with the mouthpiece People's Daily and China Central Television, which is expected to broadcast the historic event live.
China has appeared caught in a dilemma over the imminent launch as it tries to balance the secretive needs of its military with the overwhelming propaganda mileage and national pride that would accrue with a successful mission.
After widespread international reports on the launch, state-run media has only begun in recent days to slowly release details on the event.
Experts believe just one astronaut will make the trip, selected from a team of 14.
The official quoted by Xinhua would only say a team of taikonauts, or astronauts, has been formed for the mission and that they had passed "a comprehensive drill".
The China Daily Friday said the list had been whittled down to three candidates of which one would be picked to man the craft.
It said the order of choice had been set but this could change.
"Performances by these would-be astronauts at critical moments will also count in deciding who will go to space," the paper said, citing unidentified experts.
Whoever is on board will be armed with a gun and knives in case the capsule comes down in hostile territory, another state-run newspaper said.
The Jiefang Daily, quoting chief designer for the Shenzhou spacecraft Qi Faren, said all possibilities had been factored in.
"The craft may land in the ocean or in the forests in a hostile environment," said Qi in comments picked up by a host of Chinese websites.
"For the safety of the astronauts, they will take a lot of things with them like a pistol, knife and other rescue equipment including a tent and liferaft so they will be able to deal with wild beasts, sharks and other dangerous animals or enemies."
If all goes well, Shenzhou V is expected to land in the vast plains of Inner Mongolia in northwest China.
Four unmanned Shenzhou capsules have so far been been launched since 1999.
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Final Group Of Three Yuhangyuans Made "Public" Appearances
The group of three yuhangyuans who are in the final competition for the single spot on the historic Shenzhou-5 (SZ-5) mission have made "public" appearances at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC), Wen Wei Po reports today (Oct. 10). This might be the first time that JSLC personnel who were not involved directly in yuhangyuan training learned about which yuhangyuans belonged to the final group of three candidates for flight.
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