Leading Chinese space experts said in Beijing Tuesday China plans to develop several spacecraft in the next five years with the aim of sending the first Chinese astronauts into space.
Xu Fuxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), said Tuesday, "The academy will undertake the task of developing the spacecraft." He, however, didn't disclose the exact figure of the spacecraft.
Hu Hongfu, deputy general manager of China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation (CASTC), announced recently China will strive to send astronauts into space within the next few years.
That means in the near future China will become the third country in the world to be able to independently conduct manned space flights.
China launched and recovered its second unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou II, last month following the maiden experimental space flight in late 1999.
A number of unmanned flights are necessary before manned flights take place, for the sake of Chinese astronauts' safety, Hu said, adding both the Soviet Union and the United States had conducted five to eight similar tests before sending people into space.
In addition, Xu said, it is expected that China will develop and launch nearly 30 man-made satellites before 2006, which are more technologically advanced than the 11 developed and launched in the past years.
The 30 satellites include those for telecommunications, navigation, weather forecasting, natural resources and oceanic development, and environmental and disaster monitoring.
He said the academy, part of the CASTC, will be responsible for the development of most of the satellites.
By the end of 2000, China had developed and launched 48 satellites.
In its white paper on space published last year, China said it will accelerate its space development program so as to meet the needs of the national economy, national defense, scientific development, social progress and other fields, and retain the country's relatively favorable position in space research and exploration.