updated 4/10/2006 8:17:44 PM ET 2006-04-11T00:17:44

China has started construction of a rocket to carry astronauts into orbit in 2008 for its third manned space launch, state media reported Monday.

The Shenzhou 7 initially was scheduled to fly in 2007 but the government announced a delay last month, saying it needed time to create a spacesuit that can withstand a spacewalk.

Jing Muchun, the manned space program's chief designer, said better quality parts would be used for the rocket and sections of the craft would be upgraded to improve reliability, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua and newspaper reports didn't give a date for the flight or other details but officials earlier said the mission probably would include a spacewalk — a first for China's space program — and maneuvers meant to practice docking at a planned Chinese space station.

China launched its first manned space mission in 2003, making it the third country to send a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States.

A second, longer mission carrying two astronauts was completed last year.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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