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Workers forgo holiday to prepare for space flight
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Shenzhou VII completed final inspection for its rocket and remote measurement system on Sunday, paving the way for a possible liftoff on Sept 25, weather permitting.

Zhou Yong and his colleagues at the launch site's metrological center are monitoring weather conditions around the clock, amidst worries of potential gale force winds on launch day.

Zhou, like many others gave up his Mid-Autumn festival holiday on Sunday, the country's first such holiday, to prepare for the flight.

Zhong Daoqiu, a Long March 2F engineer, spent his fourth Mid-Autumn festival at the site. The rocket will launch three men into space for China's first spacewalk attempt, presumably on Sept 27.

Most workers wrote letters of regret to their families for not being able to celebrate the holiday with them.

Zhou's 9-year-old son wanted to spend the holiday buying books in Jiuquan, the nearest city to Dongfeng, the launch site, but Zhou had to apologize.

"It's your first Mid-Autumn holiday, son. Daddy cannot be with you. But I promise to make it up to you after Shenzhou VII lifts off. I'll take you to the largest bookstore to buy your favorite books," Zhou wrote in a brief note.

Xie Chengjun, an officer at the launch site, said normally his staff are free to pick up their visiting relatives at Jiuquan on holidays, but all chose not do so on Sunday.

Xie, to celebrate the festival, organized a small party for the staff, but all were on tenterhooks over the coming manned flight.

Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut, and not part of the crew of six selected for the mission, said the team had already begun closed training.

Of the six, three will be selected for the space flight.

Sources have described Shenzhou VII's mission as "a most critical step" in China's three-staged space program, which has only taken a few years to realize what the United States and Russia took decades to accomplish.

The Shenzhou VII mission is crucial to its two successors Shenzhou VIII and IX, which will be blasted off next year to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.

(China Daily September 16, 2008)

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