China's focus on space exploration is leading to more ambitious projects backed by improved technology.
On October 15, 2003, China surprised the world by sending its first astronaut Yang Liwei into space aboard the Shenzhou-V spacecraft atop a CZ-2F launch vehicle.
The model of the carrier rocket CZ-2F and its launch pad recently erected in Tian'anmen Square in central Beijing has quickly become an attraction for local residents and tourists.
Yang's flight made China only the third country to put a man in space, following the former Soviet Union and the United States.
It came some four decades after the country launched its space research program in the 1960s in an effort to improve its defence capability and peaceful space exploration.
Since April 1970, when it put its first home-made satellite in orbit, China has successfully launched 80 space flights using its Long March rocket carriers.
To date, China has sent about 70 satellites, including those manufactured by foreign companies, into orbit.
Long Lehao, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and general commander of the Long March IIIA Rocket Carrier Project, said the success rate of the Long March rocket series exceeded 90 percent, an internationally accepted benchmark for carrier rockets.
The success rates of similar models of rocket, such as the Delta rocket of the United States and those from Europe, stand at around 93 percent, he said.
In the field of satellite research and development, China has developed various types of satellites for telecommunications, meteorology, science, resource exploration, navigation, broadcasting and other purposes.
China is now focusing on more ambitious space programs, including lunar probes and the establishment of space stations.
Shortly after the successful manned flight last year, Zhang Qingwei, deputy general commander of China's manned spaceflight program, announced plans to build a space laboratory and station in the next few decades.
Rocket expert Long said China has been working on a new generation of more powerful launch vehicles with high reliability, low cost and low pollution to meet the needs of the next three decades and more rockets for launching heavy satellites and lunar probes.
Sun Laiyan, director of the China National Space Administration, said earlier this year that China is scheduled to launch its second manned spacecraft in 2005, and Chinese astronauts will conduct space experiments during the mission.
Sun announced in February this year that China planned to launch a satellite to orbit the Moon by 2007 as part of the country's three-stage lunar project. It will be followed by the landing of an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2010 and collecting samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle by 2020.
He described the satellite project as an important step toward China's exploration of deeper space, and the Moon would provide a good platform from which to explore.
As China's space sector progresses, tens of thousands of young Chinese professionals working for China's manned space project are becoming experienced and increasingly important for the country's future in the space sector, senior space experts say.
(China Daily October 6, 2004)