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Countdown to Historic Spacewalk
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China will stage its first spacewalk in 2008, a top scientist said yesterday.

Qi Faren, chief designer of China's first five Shenzhou spaceships said the spacecraft, Shenzhou VII, would carry three astronauts into space, where it will orbit the Earth for up to five days. One of them will conduct "extra-vehicular activities".

"I think we are fully prepared for the launch in 2008," Qi, a chief consultant for Shenzhou VII, told China Daily on the sidelines of the opening of the annual NPC session.

Qi was invited as a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top political advisory body.

The scientist did not specify a timetable for the launch or how long the astronaut will walk. He just said it would not be very long.

"In science (projects), reliability is the first," Qi said, adding the mission would not be staged to coincide with a special event. He was apparently referring to some media speculation that the launch would coincide with the 2008 Olympics.

He said Chinese researchers had paid special attention to the safety of astronauts by improving spacesuits and airlock technology.

In China's Space Activities 2006, a government policy document, China said it planned to have its astronauts engage in extravehicular operations and conduct experiments on spacecraft rendezvous and docking in the years through 2010.

During the period, the country also plans to carry out research on short-term manned and long-term autonomously orbiting space laboratories, according to the document released by the State Council Information Office last October.

China launched its first unmanned experimental spacecraft in November 1999.

Three more unmanned Shenzhou spacecrafts followed before the maiden manned spacecraft, Shenzhou V, was launched and successfully retrieved on October 15 and 16, 2003.

Having mastered the basic technologies for manned spacecraft, China became the third country in the world to develop manned spaceflight independently, according to the policy document.

In October 2005, the Shenzhou VI spacecraft completed a five-day flight with two astronauts on board, the first time for China to have men engage in experiments in space, another major achievement in manned spaceflight.

(China Daily March 6, 2007)

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