updated 11/3/2005 10:50:13 AM ET 2005-11-03T15:50:13

China's next space flight will carry three astronauts into orbit to perform a spacewalk and prepare for an eventual space station, newspapers reported Thursday.

Two Chinese astronauts spent five days in orbit last month on the country's second manned space mission. The government has said the next mission could be launched as early as 2007.

News reports Thursday said the 14 candidates for the next mission include Yang Liwei, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng — the three men who flew aboard China's first two manned space missions, Shenzhou 5 and Shenzhou 6.

A report in the Beijing Morning Post said that after Shenzhou 7, China would send two unmanned vehicles into space with equipment to set up a space station.

It is expected to take 6 1/2 years to develop rockets powerful enough to launch the necessary equipment, the paper said, citing Liu Zhusheng, chief designer of China's Long March rocket.

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 month.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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