Encouraged by the successful return of Shenzhou III spaceship on Monday, China Tuesday said it envisioned a bright future for its space programme with the aim of building a permanently manned space station.
A senior officer in charge of China's manned space program said that "Shenzhou III", or China's third unmanned experimental craft which was launched on March 25 and returned Monday afternoon, is "technically suitable for astronauts". A set of metabolic simulation apparatus, human physical monitoring sensors and dummy astronauts have been installed aboard the spaceship.
He added that the successful launch and return of "Shenzhou III " has laid a solid foundation for the country's future efforts to send man into outer space.
The spacecraft was pronounced "technically suitable for astronauts'' when it landed safely on Monday afternoon after orbiting the earth 108 times in nearly a week.
"Following several test flights of unmanned spaceships, China will send its astronauts into space early this century,'' said the officer, who preferred not to be identified.
The officer did not specify how many unmanned space flights China will need before staging a mission with a crew. But he said China has formed a team of astronauts, who have been undergoing training.
The officer gave a specific "orbit'' of how China's manned space project will advance: proceeding from unmanned to manned spaceship, China will build a space lab and finally establish its own permanently manned space station.
China began to carry out its Manned Space Program in 1992. The program branches out in seven aspects of astronaut training, spaceship scientific application, manned spaceship construction, carrier rocket manufacturing, developing launching sites and landing sites, and monitoring and controlling headquarters.
Thousands of researchers from more than 3,000 organizations have participated in the program, the officer said.
Thanks to their concerted efforts, China has mastered a chain of key technologies in the field of manned space programmes, successfully developed advanced carrier rockets and spacecraft, and built a spaceship application system which represents the country's top-notch scientific and technological achievements.
The country's launch vehicle is equipped with an escape and fault detecting and handling system, which can guarantee the safety of astronauts, he said. All previous test spacecraft were sent into orbit atop Long March 2F rockets.
The success of the Shenzhou craft series is testament to the fact that China has made breakthroughs in all systems involved in its manned space programme and its corresponding technology has reached a new level, he said.
After sending its astronauts into space, China will launch space labs, and these will be manned by scientists for a short time. The nation will then set up its manned space station, he said.
Although there is still a long way to go to fulfil all the goals, which the officer said are full of risks and challenges, China will surely be able to realize its development strategies outlined in its manned space programme, he said.
(People's Daily April 3, 2002)