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Space programme ramping up

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China has announced that is to send a second manned mission to space in 2005, signaling a firm commitment to its emerging space programme. Space authorities made the announcement at an air show in the Guangzhou Province. Two astronauts will blast into orbit on a Long March 2F rocket, in a capsule called Shenzhou-VI. Their mission will outlast the Chinese' first manned space flight by some time: Shenzhou-V flew with one astronaut and was outside the atmosphere for just over 21 hours.

On this occasion, they will remain in orbit for five days, although their craft could support them for up to one week. The astronauts will live in the orbital section of their craft, and will use their time in zero G to conduct unspecified scientific experiments.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology (CAST), the Chinese equivalent of NASA, plans to put a satellite in orbit around the moon with in two years, and to send a lander there by 2010. The lunar orbiter has been named Chang'e-I - a reference to a story about a fairy called Chang'e who flies to the moon. CAST also plans to send a sample return mission to the moon by 2020. ®

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