The launch could happen as early as this weekend from a remote base in the Gobi Desert. China's first manned space flight would carry one taikonaut -- or as many three. It could last from hours to several days. \nOther than that, the Chinese government isn't really saying. \nAfter 11 years of planning to join the space-faring elite, China is on the brink of making history and reaping a propaganda windfall. But as the hour approaches, the communist government is staying silent about a date and other details, wary of risking the damage of public setbacks. \n"They don't want to commit themselves," said Phillip Clark, a British expert on the Chinese program. \nA successful manned launch would stand as a testament to China's economic and technical progress, winning Beijing respect abroad and -- more importantly -- approval at home. Chinese leaders long ago traded in leftist ideology for economic reform and, battered by corruption scandals, have used such flag-waving appeals to nationalism to bind the nation together. \nThe launch would come 42 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. But China would still be only the third country capable of manned space flight, vaulting it ahead of Japan and European countries, which have only unmanned programs. \nAnd China would be accomplishing something that even the US, with its space shuttle fleet grounded following the Columbia disaster, can't do right now. \nStill, some Chinese complain privately that the program is a waste of money in a society where the average person makes about US$700 a year. \nChina hasn't released the identities of its first astronauts, 12 military pilots who, according to state media, were picked from among 2,000 applicants. Newspapers say all are about 30 years old and 170cm tall. \nThey have been dubbed taikonauts (pronounced locally Ty-Koo-Nawts). In Chinese, they are yuhangyuan, or travelers of the universe. \nAt least one of them will go up before the end of October, state media say. \nAnd the Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao said it would happen sometime after this Friday. That could coincide with a meeting of the Communist Party's ruling inner circle that convenes Saturday, allowing President Hu Jintao and other leaders to be shown on state television talking with the crew in orbit. \nThe Shenzhou, or "Divine Vessel," capsule is based on Russia's Soyuz vessel, with extensive modifications. China bought Russian space suits and a life support system to study, though officials stress that everything sent up will be made in China. \nLike other details, the cost of the military-linked program is secret but is believed to total at least US$1 billion -- equal to the annual government budget of a smaller Chinese province. \nThe 8-tonne Shenzhou is even bigger than Soyuz, which can seat three astronauts. And Chinese reports say specialists have created a menu of 20 space meals -- enough for a week. \nBut Clark, the British specialist, said China probably will keep the first flight simple, with one pilot sent up for less than a day. \nIt isn't even clear yet whether the government will alert its own public before the launch. State media said two years ago that the astronauts might be identified in advance -- possibly to dispel rumors that a fatal accident would be covered up. \n"I wouldn't be surprised if 10 minutes before the launch, state television cuts without warning to a live shot of the rocket on the pad," Clark said. \nChina has had a rocketry program since the 1950s, and missiles are one of its strongest military technologies. It does a bustling business sending up satellites for foreign clients aboard its giant Long March rockets -- a modified version of which is to carry the Shenzhou capsule. \nBeijing has nurtured the dream of manned space flight since at least the early 1970s, when its first program was scrapped during the upheaval of the 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution. The current effort began in 1992 under the code name Project 921. \nFour unmanned Shenzhou capsules have been launched, orbiting the Earth for up to a week and landing by parachute in the northern grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia region. \nForeign experts said Shenzhou 3 suffered a hard landing and might have been damaged. But Chinese officials said the fourth test flight went off without a hitch.
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
ACADEMIC FREEDOM: One professor told her students to submit anonymized papers and not to record any online classes. Some US schools have announced similar steps Students at Oxford University specializing in the study of China are being asked to submit some papers anonymously to protect them from the possibility of retribution under the sweeping new security law introduced three months ago in Hong Kong. The anonymity ruling is to be applied in classes, and group tutorials are to be replaced by one-to-ones. Students are also to be warned that it will be viewed as a disciplinary offence if they tape classes or share them with outside groups. The Hong Kong National Security Law was imposed on June 30 by Beijing after more than a year of pro-democracy
Japan’s government yesterday urged people to seek help if they were struggling to cope, following Sunday’s death of the popular actress and Miss Sherlock star Yuko Takeuchi, 40. News of her death shocked the nation and follows other recent cases of Japanese celebrities taking their lives, with figures showing a recent rise in suicides. Takeuchi was a household name in Japan and had given birth to her second child in January. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not mention a particular case, but said that some people were struggling to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been an uptick in the number
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big