Yang Liwei, China's first taikonaut, the Chinese term for astronaut, on Saturday dismissed worries about the environmental effects of a new space launch center to be built in the island province of Hainan, saying the launches will be non-toxic and do no harm to the local ecology.
Yang, who is visiting the tropical island, said space and environment authorities had researched the impact of the new center on the surrounding environment before choosing Wenchang as the site for the country's fourth space launch center.
"The State Environment Protection Administration has concluded that the construction of the new center and the launches of a new range of carrier rockets will be non-toxic and won't damage the environment in Wenchang and the Hainan island at large," said Yang, 43, now deputy director of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
"The public needn't worry about environmental issues," he said. "What's more, the launch center could become a landmark building in Hainan and a tourist attraction."
Construction of the new center, which would serve the next-generation rocket carriers, is expected to begin at the end of this year, and the center would be in use within three to five years, he added.
In 1958, China began building its first rocket launch site in northwest China's Jiuquan. The country now has three space launch grounds. The other two are located in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province, and Xichang, in southwestern Sichuan Province.
China launched its manned space program in 1999. It successfully sent Yang Liwei into orbit on the Shenzhou V spacecraft in 2003. Yang spent about 21 hours in orbit.
Two years later, taikonauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a Chinese record five-day flight on the Shenzhou VI. All the taikonauts returned safely.
(Xinhua News Agency January 26, 2008)