Kong Quan, a ministry spokesman, insisted he had no concrete information about when the mission to send a Chinese astronaut — known as a "taikonaut," after the Mandarin word for space — into orbit would begin. China has indicated it would send a man into space by the end of 2003.
But Kong said the country was proceeding apace.
"We hope we can realize that goal, sending a man into space, as soon as possible," he said, smiling, at a regular briefing. "I can't provide any information. I wish I could."
Kong added: "We are trying to make full preparations to realize our goal."
A successful mission would make China the third country — after the Soviet Union and the United States — to launch a manned spacecraft. China's communist leaders have invested enormous national prestige in the program, which has close ties to the secretive People's Liberation Army.
China's first four spaceship launches, Shenzhou I through Shenzhou IV, have been unmanned research vessels. Shenzhou V — the name means "sacred vessel" — would include a human being.
Last week, Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua told official Chinese media that preparations for the Shenzhou V launch are moving ahead "extremely smoothly."
Hong Kong newspapers with ties to China's leaders reported last week that the launch could come as early as next month following the Oct. 1 holiday commemorating the founding of the communist state — a time of high nationalist fervor in China.
By Ted Anthony