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Shenzhou VI to Take off This Morning

China will launch its second manned spacecraft Shenzhou VI this morning after the successful 21-hour first manned space mission two years ago, the headquarters of China's manned space program said in Jiuquan Tuesday.

The new spacecraft, this time with two astronauts aboard, will be blast off in space from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, the headquarters said earlier Tuesday.

Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space flight program, said the two astronauts on Shenzhou VI will for the first time enter the orbital module from the re-entry capsule and "live and work several days" under microgravity conditions.

"They will also for the first time carry out scientific experiments in space with human participation in a real sense," said Wang in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

The Long March rocket propelled China's first manned spacecraft Shenzhou V into orbit in October 2003. Astronaut Yang Liwei thus became the first Chinese national to be sent into space.

Liu Yu, commander in chief of the rocket system, said the rocket for Shenzhou VI has been much improved in reliability and safety compared with the one for Shenzhou V.

"We have confidence in the quality of this rocket. We have the conditions and capability to fulfill this mission," said Liu.

"Preparations for the launch are going on well," he said.

Sufficient or even surplus food, water and sleeping bags are prepared in the orbital module. And a food heater in the spaceship means that astronauts can have hot meals, while astronaut Yang could only eat cold food. An excrement collecting device will also be used for the first time, Yang said in an interview with Xinhua at the launch center.

The Shenzhou VI spacecraft will be sent into an oval orbit with a bank angle of 42.4 degrees, a perigee altitude of 200 km and an apogee altitude of 347 km, and after orbital readjustment, the spacecraft will move into a round orbit.

At the end of the scheduled space mission, the spacecraft will return to the main landing field in the central areas of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, an official with the Jiuquan headquarters said.

The astronauts for the scheduled space mission have been decided, after strict training, selection and assessment, and they have completed comprehensive ground drills, the official said.

Xinhua reporters at the Beijing Control Center learned that after the take-off of Shenzhou VI, the operation of the vessel will be put under the command of Beijing general headquarters for the flight mission, headed by Chen Bingde, member of the Central Military Commission and head of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Armament Department, until the end of the mission.

According to China's aerospace development plan, the country's manned space program will be carried out in three stages, culminating in the establishment of a permanent space laboratory.

China has completed the first stage of the program, sending unmanned spacecraft and a manned spacecraft into near-earth orbit.

Shenzhou VI will mark the beginning of the second stage, during which China will have more breakthroughs, such as manned space flight carrying more than one person and lasting more than one day, space walking of astronauts, and docking between capsule and space module.

In the third stage, with a permanent space laboratory and a space engineering system, Chinese astronauts and scientists will travel between the earth and the space station to conduct scientific experiments of larger scale in space regularly, for the peaceful utilization of space and exploitation of space resources.

Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, the two astronauts on China's second manned space mission, are both selected air force pilots, like the first astronaut Yang Liwei.

Fei, 40, is from Kunshan, east China's Jiangsu Province. He was selected as one of the five astronaut candidates in intensified training for China's first manned space flight -- Shenzhou VI, which blast into space in October 2003.

Nie, 41, is from Zaoyang, central China's Hubei Province. He was selected as one of the three finalists for Shenzhou VI. The other two were Yang Liwei and Zhai Zhigang.

The two astronauts will also enjoy a more comfortable journey than their predecessor Yang Liwei, since massive technological improvements have been made to the carrier Long March II F and the spaceship.

(Xinhua News Agency October 12, 2005)

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