January 8, 2008 / 12:32 AM / 12 years ago

China flexes muscle in space

A visitor at the Beijing Planetarium, November 29, 2007. China is to launch 15 rockets, 17 satellites and its third manned mission in 2008, flexing its muscle in space in a year in which it will host the summer Olympics. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is to launch 15 rockets, 17 satellites and its third manned mission in 2008, flexing its muscle in space in a year in which it will host the summer Olympics.

Huang Qiang, secretary-general of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, revealed the planned launches at a news conference on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said. He did not give details.

State media have said China plans to launch its third manned mission, Shenzhou VII, into space in October involving a space walk, and it will mount a joint effort with Russia to explore Mars in 2009.

In 2003, China 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 October 2005.

Xinhua quoted Huang as saying the Shenzhou VII was a major task for the year and called for full cooperation between all departments involved.

China launched its first lunar probe — Chang’e 1 named after a mythical goddess who flew to the moon — in October, the latest feat in an ambitious space program seeking scientific and military benefits as well as domestic political gains from its boost to patriotism.

But some critics have questioned the ruling Communist Party’s eagerness to clamber into the select ranks of global space powers even as hundreds of millions of Chinese struggle in rural hardship.

Fears of potential military rivalry in space with the United States have mounted since China blew up one of its own weather satellites using a ground-based missile in January.

Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani

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