updated 10/18/2007 2:46:02 PM ET 2007-10-18T18:46:02

China might not have a permanent presence in space yet, but the country's rocket men are already thinking about setting up a Communist Party branch in the outer reaches.

Now 14-strong, the Chinese astronaut corps more than meets the party's minimum requirement of at least three members for a branch, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.

China's space communists would "carry out the regular activities of a Communist Party of China branch in space in the way we do on Earth," Yang Liwei, the first Chinese astronaut to fly into space, was quoted by Xinhua as saying on the sidelines of the national party congress.

Yang said a party branch would have to await establishment of a permanent presence in space such as a space station, something China is decades from achieving. A government official said Tuesday that China is interested in participating in the international space station.

Yang orbited Earth for 21 1/2 hours in 2003 aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, making China only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to launch a person into space.

"Like foreign astronauts having their beliefs, we believe in communism, which is also a spiritual power," he said. "We may not pray in the way our foreign counterparts do. But the common belief has made us more united in space, where there is no national boundary, to accomplish our missions."

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