September 25, 2008

China Launches Three Astronauts into Space

China launched a spaceship carrying three Chinese astronauts into orbit Thursday for a three-day mission that may include a spacewalk, official media reported.

The Shenzhou 7 spacecraft lifted off from western China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in the northwestern Gansu Province, under clear skies at 9:10 p.m. Beijing time, or 9:10 a.m. EDT, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

The three 42-year-old fighter-pilot astronauts -- Zhai Zhigang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Boming -- were orbiting about 213 miles above Earth late Thursday, Xinhua said.

One astronaut -- or "taikonaut," in Chinese -- is expected to walk in space for about 30 minutes, probably Saturday, Xinhua said.

He plans to take samples from space and launch a small satellite monitoring station, Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the country's manned space project, told the news agency.

The two others would stay in the depressurized cabin for support, Zhou said.

The crew are carrying traditional Chinese medicine in case of sickness and their diet includes shredded pork sauteed with garlic and grilled beef with spicy sauce, The New York Times reported.

China sent its first man into space in 2003, the third nation to do so, after the United States and Russia.

China's space program, run by its military, launched a lunar probe a year ago, the first step of a program that includes establishing a space station and eventually putting a man on the moon.