China completed final inspection for the rocket and remote measurement system of its third manned spaceflight Shenzhou VII, paving the way for a possible liftoff on September 25 if weather permits.
The mission, set to include the country's first ever spacewalk, is scheduled sometime between September 25 and September 30 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province.
A three-member crew is named for the mission: Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng, according to a report on china.com.cn. Zhai Zhigang, 42, is most likely to undertake China's first spacewalk, the report said.
All the major systems are now in final preparations and the main tests for the spacecraft have been finished; the crew has been busy making final preparations, and are all in good physical and mental condition, the China Central Television (CCTV) reported.
China has announced plans to broadcast the spacewalk live. The Shenzhou spacecraft is set to carry its own small satellite, which could be automatically released from the vehicle or let go by astronauts during the spacewalk, to beam footage back to Earth. The satellite is equipped with charge coupled device (CCD) cameras to capture the historic moment when the spacewalker steps into space.
Sources have described Shenzhou VII's mission as a "most critical step" in China's three-staged space program, which has only taken a few years to realize what the United States and Russia took decades to accomplish.
China began its manned space program in 1999 and successfully sent its first astronaut, Yang Liwei, into orbit on the Shenzhou V spacecraft in 2003. Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a new Chinese record with a five-day flight on the Shenzhou VI.
The Shenzhou VII mission is crucial to its two successors Shenzhou VIII and IX, which are expected to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.
(China Daily September 17, 2008)