China begins final countdown to spacewalk mission (Lead)

September 25th, 2008 - 4:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Sep 25 (DPA) China Thursday afternoon intitiated the final eight-hour countdown to its Shenzhou VII space mission, which is scheduled to feature the nation’s first spacewalk.The Jiuquan space centre in the north-western province of Gansu began the countdown at 1:10 pm (0510 GMT), state media said.

The start of the countdown put the mission on course for its previously announced launch time of 9:10 pm (1310 GMT), although officials Wednesday said the exact time could still vary between 9:07 pm and 10:27 pm.

The Shenzhou VII, attached to a Long March-2F carrier rocket, was moved to the launch pad at Jiuquan last Saturday.

Reports said engineers had completed all the main tests for the spacecraft, the carrier rocket, the suits for the spacewalk and a satellite accompanying the flight.

The government said astronaut Zhai Zhigang was chosen to make the spacewalk.

The other two crew members were named as Liu Boming, who is to assist Zhai with leaving and re-entering the spacecraft, and Jing Haiping.

In 2003, China’s successful Shenzhou V mission made it the third country to launch a manned space mission, after Russia and the United States.

Shenzhou VI carried two astronauts into space in 2005.

Shenzhou VII is the next stage of China’s plan to build an integrated ground-space network for space exploration and manned space research, including a permanent space laboratory by 2020.

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