China launched its fourth unmanned spacecraft "Shenzhou IV" early Monday morning with a " Long March II F" carrier rocket, a move that could soon lead to its manned space voyage.
Leading scientists in charge of China's manned space program said the successful launch of the "Shenzhou (divine vessel) IV" laid a solid foundation for the country's future task of sending Chinese astronauts to outer space.
The "Long March II F" rocket blasted off at 00:40 a.m. (Beijing Time) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China' s Gansu Province.
It was the 27th consecutive successful launch of China-made rockets after October 1996.
Liu Zhusheng, leading designer of the carrier rocket system, said that the "Long March II F" rocket is on a par with the best of its kind in the world in terms of reliability and safety.
Space scientists at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center said that the "Shenzhou IV" had entered a preset orbit.
Su Shuangning, commander and leading designer of the astronaut system for China's manned space program, said Chinese astronauts had entered the spacecraft to receive training for the first time.
The astronauts were all selected from fighter pilots in the air force, Su said.
"With tough training in basic theories, professional skills and flight procedures and tasks, the astronauts are absolutely capable of making their maiden voyage to outer space," said the commander.
Qi Faren, leading designer of the spacecraft system, said all the functions, indices and data relevant to manned flights had stood up to the test of three previous successful launches and return landings of the "Shenzhou" spaceships.
"Shenzhou IV" had been modified to make it a more comfortable place for astronauts to live in and work, said Qi.
All parts of the application system for manned flight are installed aboard the "Shenzhou IV" craft in the ongoing test flights.
Gu Yidong, commander and chief designer of the space application system, said a number of scientific experiments would be conducted while the spacecraft remained in space, including some involving the astronaut flight system, control of the spacecraft environment and life support sub-system.
Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the launch system, told Xinhua the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center had put in place sound facilities for survey, control, telecommunications, and command systems with necessary facilities catering for astronauts.
Sun Baosheng, deputy chief designer of the monitoring and telecommunications system, said monitoring stations under the Xi' an Satellite Monitoring Center and four "Yuanwang" aerospace survey ships at anchor in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, were tracking and controlling the spacecraft.
Zhao Jun, commander and chief designer of the landing system, said a number of land and marine emergency rescue zones had been set up, and rescue workers had conducted some trial rescue operations in line with requirements set for manned flights.
According to China's manned flight program which began in 1992, a number of unmanned test flights will be launched before Chinese astronauts are sent into space.
Experts regard Monday's successful launch as one of the important test missions of the whole program.
The orbiting spacecraft is expected to return to Earth after completing its preset experiments in space during an unspecified period.
China launched the "Shenzhou I", "Shenzhou II" and "Shenzhou III" spacecraft in November 1999, January 2001 and March 2002 respectively.
(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2002)