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Yang Expects Next Space Mission

Yang Liwei, the fighter pilot who made China's first trip into space exactly one year ago, was all smiles when he visited the satellite launch center that sent him past the stratosphere.

The Jiuquan satellite launch center in northwest China's Gansu Province was immersed in a festive mood on Friday, as Yang, now a national hero, visited the facility and told anecdotes to his colleagues.

The historic odyssey secured China a niche as the third nation in the world to send a man into outer space, following the former Soviet Union and the United States.

The astronaut said a few hours before he entered the Shenzhou-V capsule, he had a dinner with two colleagues. They proposed a toast. The two drank red wine, while Yang just took mineral water with several drops of red wine.

President Hu Jintao was at the launch centre to see Yang off that day. Yang said that before he left a departure hall, he looked back and saw Hu step forward and wave, his eyes full of trust and care.

Before Shenzhou-V's door closed, Yang said a worker told him that when Russia staged its manned space missions, there had always been two experienced engineers who shut the spacecraft doors. One of the engineers later became curator of Russia's space museum.

Yang said the worker was speaking to ease the tension at the launch pad.

"Then at 6:15 am when I entered the spacecraft and the door was about to close, I waved to that worker, and said: 'See you tomorrow, curator'."

Yang did more than recall the past, he eagerly spoke about the challenges that lay ahead.

"Space flights are the duty of our astronauts," he said when asked if he would participate in China's next manned space mission, scheduled for 2005, and the subsequent missions such as space docking and building a space laboratory.

"I will conduct space flights again if the motherland needs me to do so," he said. "My colleagues and I are undergoing strict training as usual, and are anticipating the next mission."

(China Daily October 16, 2004)

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