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China Hopes to Have Own Space Station Within 10 Years

Fresh from putting an astronaut into orbit, top Chinese space officials on Tuesday set out three new targets, including a space station within 10 years.

Top space official Hu Shixiang told a Hong Kong news conference that China wants to achieve three new goals in the coming decade: a space station, a space walk and docking technology.

It was the first time China has disclosed a timetable for a space station. But China will not rush its program along like the Soviet and Americans did in their space race of the early 1960s, said Hu, deputy commander in chief of the manned space engineering headquarters.

Officials said China will work at its own pace. "It won't be like the space feud between America and the Soviet Union," agreed Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space engineering program. .

"We need to find a path that matches China's situation," Hu added.

Another space official said on the weekend that China plans to send a probe to circle the moon in three to five years, and a follow-up to Yang's mission is planned in two years.

But China has no plans in place for a human moon landing, said Wang.

The Chinese space officials and Yang took questions from a group of invited Hong Kong editors Tuesday, near the end of a five-day tour of Hong Kong, where Yang has been received as a celebrity. The session was aired live on local television.

Hu dismissed criticism that as a developing nation, China's resources would be better spent on improving the plight of its millions of poor.

He said the space program, which is only a tenth of the US space budget, is a worthwhile investment because it fosters social unity.

"This social effect cannot be measured by other things," Hu said.

Hu also revealed that officials had debated whether or not to broadcast the liftoff and landing of Yang's flight, but decided against it in case something went wrong.

"An entire nation would be worried," had Yang's craft landed outside the range of cameras, Hu said, adding a nationwide search for his capsule might not have been feasible.

Yang is set to leave Hong Kong on Wednesday to visit nearby Macao.

(Xinhua News Agency November 5, 2003)

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