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China to launch two-man space-pod

Crew will spend several days in space

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Early tomorrow morning, China will send its second crewed mission into space. It says two astronauts will spend several days living and working in orbit, conducting microgravity experiments.

The astronauts, who still have not been named, will blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert at around 1AM, GMT, according to government news agency Xinhua. Six contenders for the two spots have arrived at the facility, but it is understood that the authorities have already made their selection.

Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space flight program, told Xinhua: "They will also for the first time carry out scientific experiments in space with human participation in a real sense."

Xinhua also describes the luxuries available to the crew of the Shenzhou-6 spacecraft. Unlike their predecessor, Yang Liwei, these two astronauts will have "sufficient or surplus food and water", will be able to eat hot meals, and will have "excrement collecting device ... for the first time".

Yang Liwei completed 21 hours in orbit back in October 2005, apparently in very basic conditions.

New Scientist reports that Chinese state television will broadcast fifty four hours of the mission, live. The magazine goes on to say that in the event of a failed launch, the state run network is planning to air documentaries about failed space missions in other countries.

As with many things in China, secrecy and control are of the utmost importance. Foreign reporters are not allowed on the site, and even local journalists have reportedly been removed for using mobile phones or other communications equipment.

Ultimately, China says it plans to establish a permanent science station in orbit for conducting research.

Read the rest of the heartbreakingly enthusiastic Xinhua report here. ®

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