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China fine-tunes its schedule for space shot

/ Source: The Associated Press

China said Thursday that its second manned space mission will take place in September or October 2005 and will involve two astronauts orbiting for up to five days.

The Shenzhou 6 craft will have a flight of four to five days with two astronauts aboard, said Sun Laiyan, director of China National Space Administration, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The astronauts will carry out scientific tests while in orbit, Xinhua said.

Earlier reports have said the flight would be carried out in September, or by the end of 2005.

In October 2003, China became the third nation to launch a human into space on its own, firing astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit. Yang circled the Earth 14 times and landed by parachute in China’s northern grasslands after a 21.5-hour flight.

China attaches enormous national pride to its space program, and Yang has become a celebrity. Besides China, only Russia and the United States have sent humans into space on their own.

State media outlets have said 14 astronauts — all military pilots — were in training for the flight.