China Sets Manned Spaceflight Goal

A visitor looks at models of Chinese space rockets at Beijing's military museum Thursday Sept. 18, 2003. Chinese officials said Tuesday that preparations for China's first manned space flight - expected sometime later this year - are moving ahead "extremely smoothly." The launch would make China the third country, after the U.S. and Russia, to send a manned space craft.
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