China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, 38, was hurled into outer space by Shenzhou V spacecraft at 9 a.m. Wednesday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province.
Amidst deafening roars, the Shenzhou V manned spacecraft was lifted into the sky by a Long March-II-F carrier rocket. Both the spacecraft and the carrier rocket were designed and built by China independently.
Li Jinai, director-general of China's manned space program, announced success of the launch about ten minutes after the blast-off, when the spacecraft entered its preset orbit with precision.
This, China's maiden manned space flight is scheduled to last 21 hours. Success of its launch means that China has become the third country capable of sending people into outer space, following the United States and Russia.
"Today, our long-held manned space flight dream has finally come true," said Hu Shixiang, vice director-general of China's manned space program.
The Chinese people's space dream could be traced to a fairy tale that has been told since ancient time, about a woman of surpassing beauty flying to the moon after taking some magic medicine, where she stays as the Moon Goddess.
Back in the 14th century, a Chinese named Wan Hu attempted to send himself into sky by lighting 47 gunpowder-packed bamboo tubes tied to his chair. Although he got killed in this bold attempt, Wan has since been widely regarded as the world's first person using rockets as a flight vehicle.
Thirty-three years ago, Hu Shixiang pressed the rocket blast-off button to send China's first man-made satellite into space. China's space exploration activities had since started.
Five years later, with the successful landing of the country's first recoverable satellite, China turned out to be the third nation in the world having acquired the space vehicle recovery technology. "This laid a solid foundation for China's manned spaceflight program", said Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space program.
"The successful launch of Shenzhou V proves that China's space technology has advanced from the research phase into the application phase," said Gu Yidong, director-general and chief designer of the space application system under China's manned space program.
Since China officially launched its manned space program in 1992, its experts have resolved a range of technical problems with the astronaut system, space application system, spacecraft system, rocket system and launch pad system.
Between 1999 and 2002, China successfully launched four experimental and unmanned spacecraft, paving the way for this manned flight. The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, located at the juncture area of the Badain Jardan Desert and the Gobi Desert in northwest China's Gansu Province, is the country's largest spaceport from which all the previous four spacecraft were launched.
Yang is expected to land somewhere on the grassland in the central part of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, north China, after orbiting the Earth 14 times.
Before being selected as the member of China's first batch of would-be astronauts, Yang, a native of Suizhong County, northeast China's Liaoning Province, is a veteran fighter pilot of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force whose flight experience reached 1,350 hours.
In 1998, Yang and 13 other PLA fighter pilots were selected from 1,500 candidates to form the country's first team of would-be astronauts.
Su Shuangning, director-general of the astronaut system under China's manned space program, noted that all would-be astronauts have become capable of working and living in space after receiving tough physical, psychological and technical training in the past five years.
Gu Yidong told Xinhua that the manned space program's ultimate goal for China was to explore outer space and make a good use of the rich resources of space.
Gu said human civilization is moving forward step by step with mankind's domain expanding gradually from land to ocean, to sky and finally to outer space, adding that outer space exploration has turned out to be an important driving force for mankind's economic and social development.
(Xinhua News Agency October 15, 2003)