China plans to launch its second manned spaceflight, a five-day mission with two astronauts aboard, in September next year, state media reported Thursday.
Fighter pilot Yang Liwei, who became China’s first man in space in October 2003 when he circled the earth 14 times aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, was among a pool of 14 astronauts in training for the new mission, to be called Shenzhou 6.
“Shenzhou 6 will be launched in September next year,” the semi-official China News Service quoted Huang Chunping, director of the Shenzhou 5 project, as saying.
“All things being equal, I would prefer to let other astronauts go up on Shenzhou 6. That way China would have three astronauts who will have been into space,” he said.
The news agency said the astronauts would perform experiments aboard the next flight, but it did not give specifics.
On Wednesday, China state television showed astronauts in training for future space mission aboard a simulated zero-gravity flight, doing somersaults and holding up the national flag.
"The training has been going very smoothly," Yang said in the TV spot. "What we need to do is to be more strict with our training items to perfect our training plan. We have had no problems at all."
China is only the third country after the United States and Russia to launch people into space, and it has lofty space ambitions.
A third flight, Shenzhou 7, aims to have an astronaut perform a spacewalk. China also wants to build a space lab and a space station and eventually send missions to the moon.
This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.