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China delays space mission to ensure safety
By Zhao Huanxin (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2006-03-05 15:43

Safety and reliability, rather than time, is a priority when it comes to China's first space walk mission, now scheduled for 2008, according to a top aerospace official.

"We are doing a host of experiments centred on extra-vehicular activities of Shenzhou VII, which will carry three astronauts," Deputy Chief Commander of China's Manned Space Programme Zhang Qingwei told China Daily on Sunday in an exclusive interview.

In preparation for the spaceflight, Chinese scientists are building a "water pool" and a weightless environment testing facility to train astronauts for extra-vehicular activities, Zhang said.

Usually, mission specialists receive extra-vehicular activity training in a large water pool, wearing a simulated space suit, according to space experts.

It will take some time for the country to complete various tests and trials, including those on space suits for a space walk, to ensure its third spaceflight will succeed in a one-time set, Zhang said.

"To secure the reliability (of the technological changes to be made for Shenzhou spacecraft) as well as safety of astronauts, it is worthwhile for us to spend more time ... and readjust our initial plans," he said.

The spacecraft is no different in terms of size and shape when compared with Shenzhou VI, which was launched last October with two astronauts orbiting the earth for five days, Zhang said.

The success of Shenzhou VI has prompted speculations that China will launch Shenzhou VII to stage its third manned mission and first space walk in 2007.

Zhang said that the Shenzhou VII will probably be launched sometime in 2008.

Huang Chunping, a chief consultant for China's manned launching vehicle system, echoed Zhang's remarks, saying that he expected the mission will be conducted in the second half of 2008.

The delay is for improving space suit and the orbital module of the spacecraft. The improvement will be completed next year, he told China Daily on Sunday.

Both Huang and Zhang did not specify how many days the Shenzhou VII voyage will last.

All the trio astronauts to fly Shenzhou VII will be selected from the same pool of 14 fighter-jet-turned pilots from which China's first three astronauts -- Yang Liwei, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng -- were chosen, he said.

Although there will be no on-board engineers on Shenzhou VII, the country's subsequent space flights will increasingly involve such scientists, Zhang said.

"After we have tackled technologies regarding extra-vehicular activities and the docking of a manned craft with an orbital capsule, we will need many on-board scientists (for future space flights)," he said.

The official said earlier that with the development of China's manned space programme, the country will increase scientific research in orbit.

Scientists, including women experts specializing in medicine, new materials, biology and other disciplines will all have the chance to go abroad with astronauts, he said.

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