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A chronology of China's space programme

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 23, 2008
After nearly half a century, China's space programme will this week attempt its first space walk during the mission of the Shenzhou VII, the nation's third manned space flight.

Below are the main stages of China's long march into space:

1956: China, still an overwhelmingly rural society mired in poverty, opens its first Missile and Rocket Research Institute.

1957: The Chinese government kicks off "Mission 581," a program aimed at making satellite launches possible.

1958: China opens first rocket launch site in Jiuquan in the remote northwest of the country.

1960: China develops its first rocket, aided by Russian scientists. It marks the start of an entire series of rockets, all named CZ (abbreviation for Changzheng, or "Long March").

1964: Twelve tubes with biological samples, four albino rats and four white mice are put on a T-7A-S rocket that reaches an altitude of 70 kilometers (44 miles).

1968: An institute for medical and space engineering opens in Beijing, charged with conducting research into manned space flight.

1970: On April 24, China becomes the fifth country in the world to send a satellite into orbit, as the DFH-1 is lifted into space on board a Long March rocket.

1980: Several official newspapers carry articles and photos describing preparations for manned space flight, but the project never materializes, apparently because of fiscal constraints.

1984: A second launch site opens in Xichang, southwestern China's Sichuan province.

1988: Opening of a third launch site, located at Taiyuan in north China's Shanxi province.

1992: As China makes manned space flight its mid- to long-term objective, the State Council, or cabinet, adopts "project 921," which is as secretive as past projects, and is later known by the name Shenzhou ("Divine Vessel").

1993: Chinese officials visit Russia's space programme.

1994: The CZ-2D rocket lifts off, carrying several small animals.

1995: China's space program suffers a setback when a CZ-2E rocket explodes during take-off from Xichang, killing six people.

1996: China signs an agreement on the acquisition of Russian space technology.

1997: Two Chinese, Wu Jie and Li Jinlong, complete a year of training at Russia's Star City and become qualified as instructors. A mission control center is opened in Beijing.

1998: The development of a space vessel is announced.

1999: The Shenzhou spacecraft is launched on November 20 on a CZ-2F rocket and returns to earth after 14 orbits. It carries several kilograms (pounds) of biological samples.

2000: In Hong Kong, the Shenzhou vessel is shown to the public for the first time.

2001: Shenzhou II blasts off on January 9, carrying several small animals and microbes. The capsule returns to earth on January 16, touching down in the Inner Mongolia region.

2002: Shenzhou III is launched on March 25 in the presence of President Jiang Zemin. On April 1, after orbiting the earth 108 times, the craft returns to earth. Shortly afterwards, Beijing announces plans to set up a space station.

On December 29, Shenzhou IV is sent into orbit, and returns to earth on January 4. The same month, China says it plans its inaugural manned space flight.

2003: On October 15, Shenzhou V blasts into orbit, carrying China's first man in space, Yang Liwei. He returns after 21 hours and 14 trips around the Earth.

2004: Wang Yongzhi, the chief designer of China's space program, says China targets a permanent manned space station within 15 years.

2005: On October 12 Shenzhou VI blasts off from China's Jiuquan Launch Center for a five-day mission carrying astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng.

2008: In September, the Shenzhou VII prepares for blast-off from Jiuquan with air force Colonel Zhai Zhigang slated to become China's first man to walk in space, wearing the nation's first domestically produced space suit.

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Facts on China's Shenzhou spacecraft
Beijing (AFP) Sept 23, 2008
China's Shenzhou VII spacecraft will carry three astronauts into orbit this week to undertake the nation's first space walk.

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