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Chinese Scientists: Columbia Tragedy Won't Thwart Space Exploration
When expressing deep condolences at the loss of the US space shuttle Columbia on Saturday, Chinese scientists said Monday the tragedy would not thwart mankind's progress in space exploration although the road was full of danger and difficulties.

Tu Shou'e, an astronautics scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said China would launch its first manned space flight this year, and Chinese space experts and technicians should learn from the tragedy and work hard to realize the nation's dream of putting people into space.

"Manned space fight, of course, is full of risks, but the chance of tragedy is comparatively low," said Min Guirong, another astronautics expert with the CAS. Among more than 100 flights by five US space shuttles in the past decades, two shuttles have exploded.

However, the loss of human life and the spaceship was inevitable once a tragedy occurred, he said. Min is also an expert of the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The US space shuttle Columbia that exploded Saturday was worth US$1.2 billion, according to the Chinese scientist.

Another direct consequence of the space tragedy would be the slowdown of the Space Station program undertaken by 16 countries, he said. The station, about a size of a soccer court and weighing 400 tons, was scheduled to be completed in 2002, but was postponed to 2005, because of the loss of the Challenger spaceship in 1986. The date of completion of the station would be further delayed because of Saturday's incident, he said.

However, Min said the US tragedy would not have direct bearing on China's manned space program. During the ongoing test flights, China's Shenzhou-series craft were not reused, unlike the US spaceships, he said.

China did not plan to develop spaceships that could be repeatedly used, at least for the time being, because it was not as economical as expected, Min said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2003)

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