China Sets Manned Spaceflight Goal

China is busy making "full preparations" for a manned spaceflight later this year and would consider a successful mission a milestone in the country's history, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

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

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Watch Now

New Android App

For your Android phone and tablet, download the FREE redesigned app, featuring CBSN, live 24/7 news.

Download
The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App