"At present, China's manned program is progressing well," said Sun Laiyan, Director of the National Space Administration (NSA), at a press conference held by the Information Office of the State Council on October 12. "We anticipate that by 2008 we will enable astronauts to engage in space walks and conduct spacecraft rendezvous and docking."
China will also send women astronauts, scientists, philosophers and even journalists into orbit in the future, Sun added.
According to the NSA head, China's unmanned lunar probe plan encompasses three phases, namely "orbiting, landing and retrieving." The general assembly of the Chang'e 1 survey satellite has been completed and it is expected to be launched sometime next year, Sun said.
While answering questions on why China has developed a powerful new-generation thrust carrier rocket, Sun explained that a country's capability to enter space has a direct bearing on its strength in space exploration.
After the new-generation carrier rocket is successfully manufactured, it will increase the carrying capacity of China's near-earth orbiters to 25 tons, and that of geostationary orbiters to 14 tons, which will meet the national need in launching future satellites and spacecrafts. Sun acknowledged that China has made remarkable progress in the development of new carrier rockets over the past five years.
Sun also revealed that China has not made a plan for a Mars probe, though some Chinese scientists and engineers are carrying out some preliminary studies on it. China looks forward to conducting relevant deep-space exploration through international cooperation, he continued.
Talking about the possibility of developing space tourism, Sun said that to send people into space, the first and most important thing is to ensure their safe return. Though China's current manned space activities are still in the experimental stage, the NSA head pledged space tourism might begin once technology matures. Sun stressed that outer space is the common wealth of mankind. China opposes the behavior to sell lunar land, which violates some international conventions.