China to build more Shenzhou space capsules

Fresh impetus to putting first astronauts in space
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The Independent Online

China plans to build several more of its Shenzhou space capsules over the next five years as it moves toward putting its first astronauts in space "early in this century," state media said.

China plans to build several more of its Shenzhou space capsules over the next five years as it moves toward putting its first astronauts in space "early in this century," state media said.

Last month's successful second test flight of an unmanned capsule demonstrated the high level of technology already achieved by China's nine-year-old manned space program, the government-run People's Daily newspaper said.

"Using the historical breakthroughs in space flight technology, China will ultimately send astronauts into space early in this century," the newspaper said.

China aims to join Russia and the United States as only the third nation to put a human in space. Beijing sees manned space flight as key to building international prestige and proving the Communist Party's ability to transform China into a modern power.

China offers only rare glimpses into its secretive space program, which has strong ties to the military. The first launch of a Shenzhou capsule in November 1999 was not announced until the unmanned craft had safely returned to Earth.

The People's Daily quoted Hu Hongfu, deputy general manager of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, as saying several more test flights will be needed to guarantee the capsule's safety before a manned flight would be attempted.

China Aerospace Science and Technology, a large government-owned defense contractor, will build the capsules and the powerful Long March rockets used to hurl them into space, the newspaper said.

Shenzhou - which means "sacred vessel" - is designed to hold up to three astronauts. Chinese news reports said that on its second test, a six-day flight that began January 10, the capsule carried cell and tissue samples from dozens of animals, plants and micro-organisms.

The People's Daily also said China plans to step up the pace of satellite launches, putting 30 communications, weather and research satellites into orbit over the next five years, almost three times as many as since 1996.

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