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China's space centers to open for tourists
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With the expansion of the national space program, China is witnessing a nationwide enthusiasm in space-related tourism, and a variety of special tours are now in the planning stages, according to a report published on Shanghai Morning Post on September 26.

In Xichang, Sichuan Province, tourists may soon witness the entire process of launching the Chang'e I satellite right at the site. Within a month, people in Jiuquan, Gansu Province, may watch rockets soaring up into the sky. In Wenchang, Hainan Province, a space themed scientific park is scheduled for completion in the near future.

Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan

Xichang Satellite Launch Center, originally built in 1970, is located in southwest China's Sichuan Province. It was the second space center built in China, after the first was opened in Jiuquan, Gansu Province.

Since the first communications satellite was launched here in January 1984, Xichang Satellite Launch Center has sent up 28 satellites produced by China and other countries. This year, the center became famous because Chang'e I, China's first lunar orbiter, is to be launched from the site.

Taking advantage of this great opportunity, Xichang Jinying Travel Agency is carrying out a special tour program. It will allow Chinese tourists to take a closer look at the event for a cost of 800 yuan per person.

"We have two stands for spectators. Both of them are only 2.5 kilometers away from the launch pad. The larger stand can seat 2,000 people and the smaller one can seat 500. Here tourists can enjoy a full view of the whole launching process," said Wang Cheng'an, manager of Jinying Travel Agency.

The actual launching process will last only 20 seconds, and visibility will largely depend on the climate that day. However, in spite of the short time span and uncertainties, the public's interest has been aroused. A great number of people have contacted Jinying to apply for the tour; after the October 20 deadline, Jinying will send the documents of those who booked the service to relevant authorities for examination and approval.

"To launch this program, we must apply to relevant authorities. Where we can locate the stands, who is allowed to watch the event, and how many are allowed to watch the event have to be approved by the authorities," Wang Cheng'an said.

Because the launch will last only a few seconds, Wang recommended that tourists from other parts of China add more sightseeing plans to enrich their tour to Xichang.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, 210 kilometers northeast of Jiuquan City, was founded in 1958. It is currently the largest satellite launch center in China. It is also the place where China's two manned spacecrafts, Shenzhou V and Shenzhou VI, were sent into outer space.

Before long, Shenzhou VII will be launched from Jiuquan, providing a great opportunity for the local tourism industry.

Currently, the Jiuquan Tourism Bureau is in talks with the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, hoping to tap the potential of the local tourism market. It is expected that after October, the launch center may "allow a restricted group of people to visit the internal facilities of the launch center." This means that tourists from the Chinese mainland may have the opportunity to watch the magnificent scene of a rocket soaring up into the sky just beside the launch site.

However, taking into account secrecy, topography, and security, how close spectators can be to the launch pad has not been settled.

At present, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has opened part of its grounds to the public, including the launch pad where rockets were sent into outer space and the astronauts' training center where China's hero Yang Liwei was once trained.

Thanks to the public enthusiasm about the space industry, Jiuquan's tourism is booming now. Currently, a large aerospace museum is under construction there.

Since satellite launches have strict requirements over a variety of issues, the launch center will not allow tourists to watch the scene unless all necessary precautions are taken.

Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, Hainan

On the afternoon of September 24, 2007, a workshop was held to discuss the overall construction of the matching residence area at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. During the workshop, the blueprint of a space themed scientific park was introduced. The park would be built into a national base to spread knowledge concerning space-related technologies.

Located in the northeastern part of Dongjiao Town, Wenchang City, the matching residence area is divided into four parts according to their different functions. So far, many stands have been erected. When no rocket is launched, tourists can enjoy a full view of the launch pad from these stands. When a rocket is to be launched, tourists can watch the event on these stands. Additionally, a special stand was built at the edge of the ocean. With a grander view of the launching process, the stand has a seating capacity of 3,000.

In the matching residence area, special tourist buses run regularly, taking tourists to various scenic spots such as the rocket assembly plant and the rocket-launching base.

By 2020, a total of 21,000 people will settle down in the matching residence area. The theme park will be capable of receiving at most 12,000 tourists when there is a rocket-launching program. The whole construction will create 33,000 job opportunities for local people.

( by Chen Xia, September 27, 2007)

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