Report: China Sends Human in Space
TED ANTHONY, Associated Press Writer
BEIJING - After a decade of preparation, China will launch its first human being into space on Oct. 15 in a 90-minute flight that will orbit the Earth once, a major Chinese Web site reported in one of the most concrete signs yet that the landmark trip is imminent.
Sina.com implied that the flight, the Shenzhou 5, would carry only one human being in its bid to make China the world's third space faring nation.
The single-orbit flight will take place Oct. 15, Sina.com said, quoting Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong broadcaster with close ties to the Beijing leadership that is run by a former Chinese military officer.
That would be a day after the closing of the Chinese Communist Party's plenum, a major political meeting. That schedule — coupled with the National Day holiday last week — illustrates China's long-held desire to hold up its space program as a patriotic endeavor.
Sina.com also carried comments by Xie Guangxuan, director of the government's China Rocket Design Department.
"China's space technology has been created by China itself. We may have started later than Russia and the United States, but it's amazing how fast we've been able to do this," Xie was quoted as saying. Sina.com, quoting an interview from a government-controlled newspaper, said Xie was "full of confidence" about the launch.
The launch of the 8-ton craft will be televised nationally on China Central Television, Sina.com said.
If the launch is completed successfully, China would join the United States and the former Soviet Union, the only countries that have sent manned craft into space.
Xie was quoted as saying that Shenzhou 5 — the name means "sacred vessel" in Chinese — would orbit the Earth just once before returning. It would carry 2.2 pounds of plant seeds for research — but no scientific equipment "to ensure the astronaut has space," Sina.com said.
Xie didn't say how many "taikonauts" — the English nickname for China's astronauts — would be participating in the mission. Sina.com's language suggested that it would be only one.
The state-controlled newspaper Beijing Star Daily said 14 would-be taikonauts had arrived at the expected site of China's upcoming manned space launch, and three would be chosen as the finalists to soar into orbit. It quoted anonymous space-program officials.
The Beijing Star Daily said the Shenzhou 5 has "entered the final stage of general tests."
"I can guarantee you that most of the astronauts can fulfill their assignment successfully," one official was quoted as saying in the report by another state-controlled newspaper, the Guangzhou-based Express News. He didn't give further details.
The report said the would-be astronauts have arrived at a hotel in northwestern China's Gansu province, where the launch is expected to take place.
Another official who the newspaper said will select the three was quoted as saying he was seeking "a middle-sized figure, nimble movement, the ability to withstand hardships (and) a teamwork mindset."
Those traits, he said, "are the main things we're looking for in Chinese astronauts."
All 14 have qualified for space travel and passed psychological tests "with honors," the newspaper said.
The mission will also herald the debut of authentic Chinese food in space, another Web site reported.
"They'll be able to eat shredded pork with garlic sauce and kungpao chicken," China.com, said. "It will be more tasty than Western food. After the meal, green tea will be available to increase the astronaut's spirits."
China's communist government has stayed largely silent about the impending launch in recent days, perhaps to avoid having to backtrack if it changes plans.
Chinese astronauts — known in English as "taikonauts," after the Chinese word for space — have been training for years, though the military-linked program has been highly secretive and the government has never identified the trainees.
Beijing has nurtured the dream of manned space flight since at least the early 1970s, when its first program was scrapped during the upheaval of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. The current effort began in 1992 under the code name Project 921.
Four unmanned Shenzhou capsules have been launched, orbiting the Earth for up to a week and landing by parachute in the northern grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia region.
The Shenzhou, or "Divine Vessel," capsule is based on Russia's Soyuz vessel, with extensive modifications. China bought Russian space suits and a life support system to study, though officials stress that everything sent up will be made in China.
Like other details, the cost of the program is secret but is believed to total at least $1 billion — equal to the annual government budget of a smaller Chinese province.
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