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Sun, Oct 05, 2003

China Mum On Space Program

Manned Space Launch Expected Any Day

Exactly what is it that China is putting into orbit? The People's Republic says it's going to launch a satellite to "monitor the Earth." But China isn't talking at all about its first manned space flight, expected any day now.

China has held the launch date ultra-secret. But China watchers say it's expected sometime this week, during the long national holiday period commemorating the victory of communists over Nationalists on the Chinese mainland. Will China announce the date at any point before the secretive launch?

"It's hard to say," said one official with the China Aviation Manned Aircraft Office.

Another official, who declined to be identified, said: "We'll officially announce the date of launch and the number of spaceman at the right time. We won't give any details before that."

Experience would suggest that the Chinese will launch first, talk later. There's a reason for that. While a successful manned mission just weeks after Beijing landed the Olympics would boost nationalism. A failure would certainly make Chinese citizens wonder why, when they're so relatively poor, they are spending a dollar a day on the space program.

There are believed to be three seats on the upcoming mission. To fill them, China has selected a pool of 14 Air Force pilots. All are 5'7" tall. All weight about 143 pounds. All were chosen for their physical and mental attributes.

What will they eat and drink? You can be assured there won't be any Tang aboard. Su Shuangning, chief commander of the astronauts-training sector, said, "More than 20 kinds of China-made and researched space food have been prepared. And the spacesuits to be worn by the astronauts, which weigh about 10 kg apiece and each cost as much as a luxury car, are ready for use."



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