A senior participant in China's space program said on Wednesday that the number of astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-6 spacecraft to be launched in next two years was still undecided, and dismissed reports on the next mission as inaccurate.
Wang Liheng, director of Science and Technology Commission under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CAST), and former deputy chief commander of China's manned space program, said Shenzhou-5, the first manned spacecraft, had the designed capacity to carry three astronauts and circle the Earth for seven days.
The corporation is the manufacturer of China's five spacecraft and the carrier rockets used to put people into space.
Shenzhou-5, carrying China's first astronaut Yang Liwei, was launched on Oct. 15 and returned to the Earth safely the next day after circling the planet 14 times on a 21-hour mission.
Wang said the number of astronauts to be sent into space on the second manned flight would be decided only after experts completed analysis of the data collected from Shenzhou-5.
Last week, a newspaper in southwest China's Sichuan province mistakenly quoted Xu Dazhe, deputy president of CAST, as saying that three Chinese astronauts would be sent into space on Shenzhou-6 on a seven-day mission.
Xu later told Wang, his former boss, that what he told the newspaper was that Shenzhou-6 had the capacity to carry three astronauts and fly in space for seven days.
But rocket expert Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space program, told Xinhua during his visit to Hong Kong that two astronauts would hopefully go into space aboard Shenzhou-6 on a mission lasting more than 24 hours.
At a press conference on Oct. 16, Xie Mingbao, a space official, predicted that China would launch Shenzhou-6 in one or two years.
China's manned space program is aiming to establish a space laboratory and later a space station after breakthroughs in manned space missions and space docking.
(Xinhua News Agency November 5, 2003)