China preparing for upcoming manned Launch
( 2003-10-13 16:47) (AP)
After a decade of preparation and months of speculation, China made a concrete commitment Friday to human space travel, announcing plans to launch a manned capsule into orbit next week and enter one of mankind's most rarefied clubs ！ that of the spacefaring nations.
The tentative date: between Wednesday and Friday of next week, "at a proper time." The number of orbits for the still-unidentified first Chinese "taikonaut" and the Shenzhou 5 craft: 14.
The announcement, which represents both a technological and political victory for China's leaders, was sent as a flash on the wire of the government's Xinhua News Agency. It confirmed a date that many state-controlled Chinese newspapers had been leaking for days.
So common has the knowledge become that travel agencies are organizing tours to the province where the launch pad is located.
"All preparatory work for the launch is progressing smoothly," Xinhua quoted an unidentified space-program official as saying. The military-linked program is highly secretive, and access to its officials is next to impossible.
In Hong Kong, TV news was full of rocket and spacecraft images as China entered the final countdown. But to many Hong Kong residents, it's no big deal.
"I would have been very excited if it was a new discovery," said Matthew Kwok, a 36-year-old computer engineer. "But many people have already reached space. China's attempt will be nothing special."
The launch, scheduled for the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu, will make China the third country to put a human into space on its own. The former Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin up in 1961; the United States launched Alan B. Shepard Jr. less than a month later.
But the world is different now. Instead of a competitive "space race," which consumed Washington and Moscow, China's entry into human space travel has a less confrontational purpose ！ showing both its citizens and the world that it is a modern player bursting with the progress of a new century.
The launch would come shortly after a major annual Communist Party meeting that concludes Tuesday, suggesting an attempt to link the party's leadership with one of the most patriotism-drenched events in recent Chinese history.
Any Chinese astronaut is certain to become an immediate hero at home ！ both through the natural admiration of a fiercely patriotic nation and through the state propaganda machine that has been showcasing space exploration as evidence of a proud, robust China.
The Shenzhou 5 will orbit the Earth 14 times before landing at a "pre-selected area," Xinhua said.
"China plans to launch its first manned spaceflight at a proper time between Oct. 15 and 17, said an official in charge of the country's manned spaceflight program on Friday," it said in a statement that it labeled a "bulletin."
Xinhua did not say how many Chinese astronauts ！ dubbed "taikonauts" in English after the Chinese word for space, "taikong" ！ the craft would contain.
China Central Television, in the top story of its evening newscast, said the Shenzhou 5 would fly on an elliptical orbit and cross the equator at an angle of 42.4 degrees. It would then shift to a circular orbit at an altitude of 213 miles.
The agency's Web site immediately posted what it called a "simulated picture" of Shenzhou 5 in orbit, with its capsule and propulsion system in the foreground and a spectacular vista of the Earth and the sun as a backdrop.
All would-be taikonauts have passed "a comprehensive drill," Xinhua said.
The English-language China Daily newspaper said Friday that a field of 14 trainees has been narrowed. While the three candidates have been ranked in order of preference, outside factors could still affect the final choice, it said.
On Friday, the popular Sina.com Web site reported that handguns, knives and other "defensive weapons" will be stored aboard the capsule as a precaution against landing in hostile environs. Astronauts "will be able to deal with wild beasts, sharks and other dangerous animals or enemies," it reported.
State media have reported the Shenzhou 5 capsule will blast into space aboard a Long March CZ-2 rocket from the Gobi Desert launch base at Jiuquan.
Sina.com said the craft would blast off during daylight and would return to earth by 6 p.m. Thursday, using its enormous parachutes to set down on the plains of Inner Mongolia.
The astronauts have been described as experienced fighter pilots, about 5 feet-8 and 140 pounds.
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