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China is in the final stages of preparation for its first manned space launch. The launch could take place as early as mid-October, according to published reports in Hong Kong.
Chinese Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua revealed on Sept. 23 that preparations are well underway to launch an astronaut into orbit. If successful, China will become the third country to send a man into space after the former Soviet Union and the United States. The timing of the launch will be determined by weather and other conditions.
Although Xu stressed the technological benefits to civilian aviation from the manned space mission, the launch has military implications as well. North Korea test-fired a three-stage Taepodong-1 missile on Aug. 31, 1998, which passed over the northern part of the main Japanese island of Honshu and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
North Korea claimed the incident was an attempt to launch its first satellite. But no satellite was ever detected, either visually, by radar or from radio signals. Thus, the launch was widely considered to be a part of North Korea's military efforts to develop a long-range missile.
Ta Kung Pao, a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong, reported Sept. 16 that the Chinese manned spaceship Shenzhou V is expected to be launched as early as October 10. Another Chinese-language newspaper reported that Shenzhou V could be launched right after National Day on October 1.
According to published reports, the spacecraft is composed of three compartments including a pilot cabin and an experimental laboratory compartment. While it can accommodate two astronauts, only one is scheduled. The spaceship is to be launched into Earth orbit by the Changzhen 2 (Long March 2) F rocket. Both the spaceship and the rocket were reported to have been transported to a base in Jiuquan of Gansu Province in the northwestern region of China at the end of August.