Encouraged by the successful return of Shenzhou III spaceship on Monday, China Tuesday said it envisioned a bright future for its space programme with the aim of building a permanently manned space station.
The success of Shenzhou III (Divine Vessel III) has laid a solid basis for the country to send people into outer space in the "foreseeable future,'' said a senior officer in charge of China's manned space programme.
The spacecraft was pronounced "technically suitable for astronauts'' when it landed safely on Monday afternoon after orbiting the earth 108 times in nearly a week.
"Following several test flights of unmanned spaceships, China will send its astronauts into space early this century,'' said the officer, who preferred not to be identified.
The officer did not specify how many unmanned space flights China will need before staging a mission with a crew.
But he said China has formed a team of astronauts, who have been undergoing training.
The officer gave a specific "orbit'' of how China's manned space project will advance: proceeding from unmanned to manned spaceship, China will build a space lab and finally establish its own permanently manned space station.
The manned space programme, launched in 1992, is made of seven systems, including astronaut and spacecraft scientific application systems and a landing field system, he said.
Participating in the research, building and testing of these systems are thousands of scientists and technicians in more than 3,000 organizations, he said.
Thanks to their concerted efforts, China has mastered a chain of key technologies in the field of manned space programmes, successfully developed advanced carrier rockets and spacecraft, and built a spaceship application system which represents the country's top-notch scientific and technological achievements.
The country's launch vehicle is equipped with an escape and fault detecting and handling system, which can guarantee the safety of astronauts, he said. All previous test spacecraft were sent into orbit atop Long March 2F rockets.
The success of the Shenzhou craft series is testament to the fact that China has made breakthroughs in all systems involved in its manned space programme and its corresponding technology has reached a new level, he said.
After sending its astronauts into space, China will launch space labs, and these will be manned by scientists for a short time. The nation will then set up its manned space station, he said.
Although there is still a long way to go to fulfil all the goals, which the officer said are full of risks and challenges, China will surely be able to realize its development strategies outlined in its manned space programme, he said.
(China Daily April 3, 2002)