China space walk mission due late Sept-report

BEIJING Tue Sep 2, 2008 6:32am IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China plans to launch its next manned space flight and stage its first space walk in late September, bringing forward the latest display of the country's growing might, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The mainland-controlled Wen Wei Po said the Shenzhou VII spacecraft will lift off from the Jiuquan rocket launch site in northwest China with three astronauts, one of whom will venture outside the craft while in orbit.

Previous reports in Chinese state media have said the launch would be in October, possibly during the National Day holiday.

"Now the fairly certain time is before National Day, because the best launch window for Shenzhou VII will be before Oct 1," the paper stated, citing unnamed sources.

The launch will be another highpoint for China in a year marked by displays of patriotic confidence, especially the Beijing Olympics in August. Chinese space officials said last year that the space walk would be broadcast live.

China in October 2003 became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, after the former Soviet Union and the United States. It sent two more astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI craft in October 2005.

Last year, the country also sent into orbit its first lunar probe and its longer term goals include eventually establishing a space station and landing on the moon.

But the launch date of the Shenzhou VII has been shifted before, and there has been no officially confirmed date yet. The craft is set to land in northern China, the Hong Kong paper said.

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