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Shenzhou VII Installed on Carrier Rocket, Set for Liftoff

The Shenzhou VII spacecraft and its carrier rocket were assembled on Thursday evening, the latest step toward the launch of China's third manned space mission.

Drinking water (about 2.5 kg for each of the three crew members), food, traditional Chinese medicine and other materials were put onboard the ship on Friday, as it prepares to be transferred to the launch pad.

Shenzhou VII is scheduled to lift off at 9:10 PM on Thursday - weather permitting - at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the border of Gansu Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Due to security and confidentiality concerns, all tourist programs to the center or otherwise related with witnessing Shenzhou VII's liftoff have been called to a halt by the Jiuquan tourism bureau.

This is the first time domestic tourist groups have been discouraged from visiting the center.

Some travel agencies have said there are still ways to sneak into the oasis community "through inside sources" for a one-day tour on Thursday that costs 380 yuan (US$56).

The city's tourism bureau, however, said the agencies may fail to deliver, in which case it will force them to compensate all visitors involved.

Jiuquan has reaped considerable economic benefits from the launch center, an indispensable part of China's ambitious space program. Agency-organized day trips to the center, which include tours to the launch pad, astronauts' apartments and a martyr's cemetery, have sold well.

A blind spot on most maps, the center is a mysterious, self-contained community built in 1958 in the vast Gobi Desert to lead China's space endeavors.

The launch center witnessed the successes of Dongfanghong-I, China's first satellite, in 1970, and first manned space mission Shenzhou V in 2003.

(China Daily September 20, 2008)

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