Tue, Sep 27, 2005 - Page 5 News List

China gets prepared to launch second manned space mission next month

AP , SHANGHAI

China's second manned space mission -- and its first to carry two astronauts -- is due to launch on Oct. 13, weather permitting, and return five days later, a state media report said.

The launch of Shenzhou VI is scheduled for 11am at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Base, in the Gobi desert in northern China.

The mission is expected to last 119 hours if all goes according to plan, the state-run China News Service said in a report on Sunday.

final preparations

The report said that midday was chosen as the launch time to improve safety and allow launch personnel enough time for final preparations, unlike some past unmanned missions that pushed off in the night and predawn hours.

"The main reason is to provide greater safety for the astronauts because these spaceships are manned spaceships," the report said.

The military-backed space program is a major prestige project for the communist government. China has announced plans to land an unmanned probe on the moon by 2010 as well as operate a space station.

orbiting the earth

China's first manned space flight in October 2003 made it the third country able to launch a human into space on its own, after Russia and the US.

Colonel Yang Liwei, a former fighter pilot, orbited the Earth for 21 1/2 hours aboard the Shenzhou V capsule before landing in China's northern grasslands.

Earlier reports said that Yang would not be making this trip.

Instead, he is helping train former fighter pilots who are reportedly the candidates for Shenzhou VI.

The initial group of 14 has been narrowed down to three pairs, or a total of six, the China News Service said.

It also said that Zhai Zhigang and Nie Haisheng, two alternates for Shenzhou V, were "the strongest group with the greatest confidence" for carrying out the mission.

`taikonauts'

Plans call for the capsule to carry two astronauts -- or "taikonauts" for the Chinese word for space.

Beijing does not participate in the US-led international space station project.

The report cited an unnamed researcher as saying that the new space capsule was not a duplicate of Shenzhou V due to more than 100 technological modifications that made it more conducive to scientific research.

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