BEIJING (Reuters) - China will launch three astronauts into space next year in its third manned rocket flight and broadcast its first space-walk live, local media reported on Tuesday.
China in 2003 became only the third country to put a man into space using its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States. It then sent two astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI rocket in Oct 2005.
China planned to launch its third manned rocket, Shenzhou VII, into space in October 2008, according to a local newspaper report reproduced in the Shanghai Daily.
"The (astronauts) will walk in space for the first time and each move will be broadcast live," the paper quoted Pang Zhihao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology, as saying.
The astronauts would be attached to a belt but would "walk as far as five meters", Pang said.
China has also set a target of five years to have its next generation of carrier rockets ready for launch, the Beijing News said in a separate report.
Last month, China announced it would build a new range of carrier rockets designed to send bigger satellites and potentially space stations into space.
"The preliminary plan is to be able to put these rockets into operation after five years," the paper quoted Zhang Yanhe, deputy director of the Tianjin office of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, as saying.
China would start building the rockets at the end of 2009, following completion of a 4.5 billion yuan ($606 million) manufacturing base in Tianjin, the paper said.
China's space program has come a long way since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space.
Its first lunar probe, Chang'e 1, reached its working orbit earlier this month, and the second stage of its lunar exploration project envisages a moon landing.
It has also said it would work with Russia to send probes to Mars aboard a Russian rocket in 2009.
Editing by Nick Macfie and David Fogarty