Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 1 News List

China to send two more astronauts to space

RIGOROUS TRAINING Beijing is hoping to improve on the success of last year's flight, and this time it is planning to up the stakes with a more ambitious mission

AFP , BEIJING

China's second manned space mission will take place in September next year with two astronauts circling the Earth for five days, state media yesterday quoted a high ranking space official as saying.

"Shenzhou VI is scheduled to be launched in September next year," Huang Chunping, chief commander of China's first manned spaceflight, said Wednesday, the Beijing News reported.

Officials had previously said the launch would be next autumn but had not revealed the month.

Training for the space mission was going "very well" and according to schedule, officials said.

"Everything is going according to plan. ... The training is very successful and is first rate," China's first astronaut Yang Liwei (楊利偉), who manned Shenzhou V in China's maiden manned mission in October last year, told the Beijing Youth Daily.

"The astronauts will be able to complete their training duties on time and meet the requirements to greet Shenzhou VI's launching next year."

Shenzhou VI will orbit the Earth for five days with two astronauts onboard, unlike Yang's solo mission, which circled the Earth for only 21 hours, the reports said, confirming previous announcements.

Fourteen astronauts, including Yang, have undergone seven days of training on simulated weightlessness and other exercises to help them become accustomed to space and the special design of the Shenzhou VI spacecraft, the reports said.

The vehicle has a heavier capsule than Shenzhou V and can carry 200kg more weight, they said.

Unlike Yang, who remained in his seat during the entire flight, the astronauts on the second mission will leave the return capsule and enter the orbital capsule to conduct scientific experiments.

The 14 astronauts being trained are all experienced air force pilots, who have undergone seven to eight years of rigorous astronaut training. The chosen two will not be announced until close to the launch date.

Yang would not be given special consideration despite his experience, said Huang.

"Under equal qualifications, I personally am more in favor of letting other astronauts on Shenzhou VI. This way our country will have three astronauts who have entered space," Huang told the Beijing News.

China is only the third country to send a man into orbit, after the Soviet Union and the US.

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