Wednesday, October 12, 2005

China astronauts blast confidently into space

China astronauts blast confidently into space
By Ben Blanchard and Benjamin Kang Lim Wed Oct 12, 5:24 AM ET BEIJING (Reuters) - China's second manned spacecraft blasted off from a remote northwestern launch site on Wednesday, two years after the country joined an elite club of space powers. An elated Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders were in Jiuquan to witness the launch, which has raised China's astronautic profile alongside new-found diplomatic and economic clout.
"You will once again show that the Chinese people have the will, confidence and capability to mount scientific peaks ceaselessly," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as telling the astronauts.
Fei Junlong, 40, and Nie Haisheng, 41, colonels in the People's Liberation Army, were handpicked from 14 fighter pilots and had been in the running for China's first manned space launch in 2003.
"There is nothing to worry about," state television quoted the pair as saying before Shenzhou VI lifted off as light snow fell. "We will accomplish the mission resolutely. See you in Beijing."
"I feel good," Fei, a native of China's richest city, Kunshan, said minutes after the blast-off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, deep in the desert of the northwestern province of Gansu.
State television broadcast the lift-off live and showed the pair inside the Shenzhou capsule waving at the camera after the spacecraft entered orbit.
They later showed the pair flipping through flight manuals and pushing buttons by computer screens.
The capsule, based on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft developed in the late 1960s and still in service, is due to touch down in the remote northern region of Inner Mongolia on Monday.
The launch came just a day after the Communist Party wrapped up a key meeting to map out the development of the world's seventh-largest economy for the next five years. It also came as China opens its 10th National Games, dubbed its mini- Olympic Games, ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
China had stressed on Tuesday that its space program was peaceful and it did not want to enter any arms race in space.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
In the Chinese capital, President Hu Jintao and Vice President Zeng Qinghong watched the lift-off at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center.
China is determined to become a serious space player and set up a National Astronaut Training Center in Beijing this week. Xinhua said it was only the third such facility in the world.
"We should never slacken our efforts to explore the mystery of space," said Nie, described by Xinhua as a "cowboy"
State television carried blanket coverage of the launch, using a slightly modified version of the theme from the 1970s U.S. cult sci-fi series "Battlestar Galactica" as background music.
"We're very happy and not especially nervous, because we have faith in science," Fei's bemused-looking father told China Central Television in thickly accented Mandarin as firecrackers exploded nearby at the family's home in eastern Jiangsu province.
China's first man in space was Colonel Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth 14 times aboard Shenzhou V craft in October 2003.
Underlining how far China has to catch up space powers Russia and the United States, a Russian capsule carrying a cosmonaut, a U.S. astronaut and an American space tourist returned to Earth on Tuesday from the International Space Station.
The former Soviet Union and the United States put their first men into space in 1961.
China has had a long -- if not always successful -- relationship with space travel.
The country invented gunpowder and legend has it that a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) official named Wan Hu attempted the world's first space launch. He strapped himself to a chair with kites in each hand as 47 servants lit 47 gunpowder-packed bamboo tubes tied to the seat.
When the smoke had cleared, Wan was apparently found to have been obliterated.
But the dream survived.
(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng and Judy Hua)

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