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Final test for China's astronauts

China's leaders are hoping the space flight will boost national prestige.
China's leaders are hoping the space flight will boost national prestige.

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CNN's Jaime FlorCruz reports on agricultural experiments in space that China hopes will boost food production.
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CNN's Jamie Florcruz reports on China's preparations to launch its first space crew into orbit.
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SPECIAL REPORT
• Satellite image: Launch site
• Explainer: The Shenzhou V
• Timeline: China's space program
• Special report: Space quest
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Three astronauts short-listed to be China's first man in space have arrived at the launch site in the remote Gobi Desert, state media has said.

Citing "informed sources" the Xinhua news agency said that from the three the "number one astronaut" among them would be selected to make the historic flight -- the clearest pointer yet that the spacecraft will carry just one passenger.

The Shenzhou V spacecraft, closely resembling the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, is thought to be capable of carrying up to three astronauts.

Tests to determine who would make the first flight would be conducted on Tuesday, the agency said.

The spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from the Jiuquan launch center at what the government said last Friday would be an "appropriate time" between October 15 and 17.

The launch is expected to take place in daylight to increase safety should the astronaut have to abort the mission.

The previous four test launches of the Shenzhou spacecraft have all taken place at night.

Tight secrecy surrounds much of China's military-linked space program and in the past launches have never been announced in advance.

Confidence

Observers say the fact that a provisional date has been given ahead of time with the launch expected to be broadcast live are signs of confidence among mission controllers that the first flight will be a success.

China is believed to have trained a corps of 14 astronauts for its manned space program, all of them men.

Their identities are a closely guarded secret, although all are said to be experienced former fighter pilots and most are married with children of school age, the Xinhua report said.

All being well the Shenzhou V is expected to make 14 orbits during its flight before coming back to Earth in a landing zone in Inner Mongolia.

If it is successful the mission will bring China membership of an elite club of space powers, making it only the third nation in history capable of launching humans into space.

It will also catapult whoever does pilot the first flight into the history books, making him a national hero in the world's most populous nation.


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