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China Readies Manned Space Mission

Sept. 21, 2008 (EIRNS)—Over the weekend, China's space personnel mated the Shenzhou VII manned spacecraft to its Long March II-F rocket, moved the stack to the launch pad, put in the last-minute consumables—such as water and food—for the three-man crew, and the astronauts arrived at the Jiuquan launch center. If the weather cooperates, the Chinese will launch their third manned mission on Thursday, Sept. 25, at 9:10 p.m. local time. They have a five-day window to launch, for orbital lighting conditions to be favorable for the first Chinese space walk, or extravehicular activity (EVA).

The mission is singular in purpose—to accomplish the EVA, and will be only three days long. China's first manned launch, in 2003, lasted less than a day, and its two-man mission in 2005 was five days long. Being able to work outside a spacecraft is an important step toward assembling multi-component complexes in space, such as a space station, and for the repair and maintenance of spacecraft that will be in orbit for a long time.

China's English-language television station has been featuring each step in readying the mission, including interviews with Chinese experts and Chinese-American Shuttle astronaut Leroy Chao, and coverage of the training of the crew. It is expected that the EVA will be shown live on television, in a show of confidence in the success of the mission.

Extreme care has been taken over three years to prepare the Shenzhou VII flight. While the first Soviet and American EVAs were carried out with only two crew members on board, China's first EVA will have one crewman inside, and two crew members suited up, in case the prime space walker, Zhai Zhigang, has any problem. China's conservative approach, while frustrating to observers who think a new "space race" might lead to more money for the sinking U.S. space program, is making steady progress.

As NASA Administrator Mike Griffin frequently points out, it is not hard to see how China could get to the Moon with astronauts before we do; not because they are in a race, but because we do not have the commitment to provide adequate resources, which they do.