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Shenzhou VII Ready for Final Test

The team that developed Shenzhou VII, China's third manned spacecraft, will begin the final test at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province in a few days.

Zhang Bainan, chief designer of the spacecraft, said on Tuesday that the research and development team of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC) will leave for Jiuquan early this month.

This, according to insiders, signals the final preparation stage of the country's third manned space mission.

Shenzhou VII is scheduled to carry three astronauts and blast off atop the Long March-2F rocket from Jiuquan in October.

The Long March-2F rocket will be carried to the launch site in the beginning of August, a spokesman for China's manned space program said on Tuesday.

One of the astronauts will be the first Chinese to walk in space as part of the second stage of the country's manned space mission.

The mission is aimed at mastering two key technologies necessary for setting up a space laboratory or station, where spacecraft can dock and perform extra-vehicular activities, reports said.

Shenzhou VII, which means "divine vessel" in Chinese, has passed the inspections of the CASC and an expert panel, he said. "Its functions and performance fulfill the comprehensive requirements of the space program."

Yuan Jiajun, deputy general manager of the CASC, said the mission is the riskiest in China's space program.

The mission, Zhang said, differs from earlier ones in three ways.

First, it will carry out "extra-vehicular activities", which will put homemade airlock module and space suits to strict tests in space for the first time.

Second, the three astronauts will stay in Shenzhou VII for up to five days, testing its rated capacity.

Third, experiments will be conducted with some new satellite communication technologies.

To ensure that the mission is a success, experts have prepared plans to deal with more than 30 emergency situations to guarantee the astronauts' safety, Zhang said.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into space. The US and the erstwhile Soviet Union (now Russia) are the others to have done so.

(China Daily July 2, 2008)

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