Chinese astronauts will leave their spaceship and walk in space as part of the nation's next manned space mission.
Shenzhou-VII, due to be launched in two years time, will carry three astronauts into space, who will make China's first space walks, said a senior designer, at Guangdong's on-going air show.
"All our work on Shenzhou-VII is going smoothly and as scheduled," said Qi Faren, former chief designer of the Shenzhou series of spaceships.
According to him, the spaceship is a development from Shenzhou-VI, which bore two astronauts aloft last year
"Currently the spaceship's sub-systems are at spaceship city for assembly," said Qi, speaking at the Sixth China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, which opened in Zhuhai on Monday.
Meanwhile research and design projects for the Shenzhou-VIII, IX, and X spacecrafts are also under way, he added.
Yang Liwei told a joint press conference on Wednesday, that candidate astronauts, including Fei Junlong, Nie Haisheng and himself, all pioneers of China's space travel, are competing to be selected for the mission.
"The physical, technical and mental requirements have been raised for the astronauts, because they will walk outside the spaceship," said Yang.
As of yet, female astronauts are not being considered for the mission, said Yang, who is also the vice-director of the astronauts' research and training centre.
But he also promised that as the space flight program develops, high-caliber female astronauts will be chosen for tasks in space.
Asked when common people might be sent into space, Yang said ordinary people would one day be able to enjoy space tours as spaceship technology matures and the physical requirements for space travel become lower.
Currently, two Chinese people are already preparing for their first space trip. According to the Beijing Morning Post, one man and one woman will be among the first 100 to make a maiden half- hour space trip with New Mexico-based space tourism company Virgin Galactic, at the end of 2008. The trip will cost around US$200,000 for each person.
Besides the launch of Shenzhou-VII, ambitious blueprints for China's rapidly growing aviation and aerospace industry have been mapped out.
The nation plans to carry out eight major aerospace missions within five years, said Zhang Yunchuan, minister for Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, at a summit held to coincide with the exhibition on Thursday.
(China Daily November 3, 2006)