China Eyes Space Walk In 2007

This photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency shows Chinese astronauts Fei Junlong, left, and Nie Haisheng holding flowers after landing in Siziwang Banner County, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Monday, Oct. 17, 2005. A space capsule carrying two Chinese astronauts landed by parachute in the country's northern grasslands before dawn Monday following a five-day mission meant to affirm China's status as an emerging space power. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Zhao Jianwei)
China hopes to conduct a space walk in 2007 and might recruit women into its next group of astronaut candidates, a senior space program official said Monday.

The Shenzhou 6 flight that ended early Monday completed the first stage of China's manned space development plan, which focused on development of space vehicles, said Tang Xianming, director of the China Space Engineering Office.

The next stage focuses on developing ways for astronauts to walk in space and the ability to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft, Tang said at a news conference.

"Our estimate is that around 2007 we will be able to achieve extravehicular activity by our astronauts and they will walk in space," he said.

Tang said he also expected to see female Chinese astronauts "in the not-too-distant future."

"At present, we do not have women participants among our astronaut candidates," he said. "But according to our development program and plans for manned space engineering, for the next round of selections, we might consider having some female astronauts."

Back on the ground, astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng were "in good health" and "feeling good" after the Shenzhou 6 capsule touched down at 4:32 a.m. in the Inner Mongolia region, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said retrieval crews had reached the landing site and the two men were undergoing a medical checkup.

Fei and Nie blasted off Wednesday on China's second manned space mission. It came almost exactly two years after China's first manned space flight made this only the third country able to send a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States.

State television showed scores of technicians monitoring the landing at computer screens at a Beijing control center. They didn't show any reaction when an announcer said the capsule had landed but broke into cheers after word came that the astronauts were safe.

Chinese leaders including Wu Bangguo, the No. 2 figure in the ruling Communist Party, were shown on television watching the landing from the control center.

Late Sunday, Xinhua said the mission had "accomplished the planned experiments and accumulated valuable technical data" for China's manned space program.

"We feel good, our work is going smoothly and our life is happy," Fei was quoted as saying Sunday evening before the craft began its re-entry maneuvers. "We will do our utmost to fulfill the mission."

"We're grateful for the deep love and concern by all Chinese people, the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan compatriots," Nie said.