China's spacecraft Shenzhou 6 carries out "maintenance operation" to correct capsule orbit

China's Shenzhou 6 briefly fired its rockets to adjust its orbit early Friday as the spacecraft began its third day of a mission meant to help prepare for the eventual launch of a Chinese space station. Chinese space officials say they hope to land an unmanned probe on the Moon by 2010 and want to launch a space station.

The maneuver was carried out after the capsule was found to have been dragged closer to the Earth by gravity, said the Web site of the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily. It said the "maintenance operation" lasted a few seconds, and there was no indication the crew was in any danger, according to the AP.

Astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng blasted off Wednesday on China's second manned space mission, an effort by communist leaders to win respect abroad as a rising power and public support at home.

Traveling at about 28,080 kph (17,528 mph), the Shenzhou 6 was making its 35th orbit at midday Friday, circling the Earth at an altitude of 343 kilometers (210 miles), the People's Daily said.

The capsule began its orbit-correcting maneuver at 5:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), according to the People's Daily. It said boosters fired and the vessel picked up speed for a few moments before returning to its planned trajectory.

The government has not said how long Fei and Nie would stay up, but news reports said it could be three to five days.

The official Xinhua News Agency said a new road to the landing site in grasslands of the northern Inner Mongolia region opened Friday as the space program prepared for the capsule's return.

Recovery crews spent Thursday practicing rescue work, launching helicopters to the primary landing area in the Inner Mongolia region, Xinhua said.

Early Thursday, the crew set a Chinese endurance record in space, surpassing the time of the country's first manned space flight in 2003, when astronaut Yang Liwei spent 21 1/2 hours in orbit.

The Shenzhou, or Divine Vessel, capsule is a modified version of Russia's workhorse Soyuz. China also bought technology for space suits, life-support systems and other equipment from Moscow, though officials say all items launched into space are made in China.

China has had a rocketry program since the 1950s and sent its first satellite into orbit in 1970. It regularly launches satellites for foreign clients aboard its giant Long March boosters.


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