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China launched its first manned space flight today (15 October), making it the third country after the United States and Russia to put a human into orbit.

President Hu Jintao said that the launch represented "a significant, historic step of the Chinese people in climbing [to] the peak of the world's science and technology."

The Shenzhou-5 spacecraft was carried into space on top of a China-made carrier rocket, which took off at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Northwest China's Gansu province. It entered into orbit about 10 minutes later.

"The launch has been a complete success," said Li Jinai, director-general of China's manned spaceflight programme, in an official announcement of the launch.

The spacecraft is more than 8 metres long and weighs almost 8 tonnes. It carries a single astronaut, Yang Liwei, whose identity was kept secret until a few hours before the launch. The spacecraft is scheduled to orbit the earth 14 times before touching down after 21 hours on the vast grassland of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

  A chronology of China's space programme
1958 Chairman Mao Zedong declares China will develop atomic bombs, missiles and satellites.
1959 China launches its first rocket.

China launches its first satellite aboard the Long March rocket, which orbits Earth blasting the Cultural Revolution anthem, 'The East is Red'.

1992   Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin calls for China to launch a manned spacecraft.

The Chinese-designed Long March 2E rocket carrying a telecommunications satellite explodes after blast-off from Xichang in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

1996 Two Chinese astronauts start training at Russia's Star City Space Centre.

China launches first unmanned spacecraft 'Shenzhou', or 'Divine Ship', in the northwestern province of Gansu. Shenzhou touches down safely in the northern region of Inner Mongolia after 21 hours in space and orbiting Earth 14 times.


China launches Shenzhou II in Gansu. Carrying a monkey, a dog, a rabbit and snails, it returns safely to Earth in Inner Mongolia seven days later after 108 orbits.

Mar 2002 

Shenzhou III takes off carrying dummy astronauts and life simulation and monitoring devices. It touches down successfully in Inner Mongolia after orbiting Earth 108 times.

May 2002 China in final stages of preparing 14 fighter pilots as candidates for the country's first astronauts.
Dec 2002

China's fourth unmanned spacecraft blasts off from Gansu. After circling the planet 108 times, Shenzhou IV lands safely in Inner Mongolia on 5 January, 2003. It successfully performs several hundred operations in space, including unfolding solar panels. The space capsule tests life support systems.

Oct 2003 China's first manned spaceship, Shenzhou V, blasts off from the Gobi desert.            (Source: Reuters and Xinhua)