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China aims at 2nd space launch for October

China has narrowed the list of astronauts for the country's second manned space mission later this year to six candidates, according to media reports.
/ Source: The Associated Press

China hopes to launch its second manned space mission in October, two years after its first flight, a state newspaper reported Friday.

Earlier reports said the government planned to launch a two-man crew into orbit in September or October on a five- to six-day flight.

The Shenzhou VI capsule will “preferably be launched in early October,” Sun Weigang, director of the Space Department of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., said in the report in the China Daily newspaper.

The report didn’t give any other details.

In October 2003, China joined the United States and Russia as the only countries to launch humans into space.

Col. Yang Liwei, a former fighter pilot, orbited the Earth for 21 1/2 hours aboard the Shenzhou V capsule before landing in China’s northern grasslands.

The 14 candidates for the next flight — all former fighter pilots — have “stepped up training in weightless conditions and learned to repair faults and deal with other emergencies in space,” the China Daily said.

The military-linked manned space program is a major prestige project for the communist government but still operates largely in secret.

Yang’s name wasn’t announced until shortly before his flight; the identities of candidates for the next flight haven’t been released.

The Chinese program’s technology is based on Russia’s Soyuz space capsule but with extensive modifications.

In April, the government announced plans to build a new campus for the Shanghai space center that built part of Yang’s capsule, indicating a longer-term commitment to manned spaceflight.

Chinese officials say they plan to land an unmanned probe on the moon by 2010 and operate a space station.

Beijing doesn’t participate in the U.S.-led International Space Station.