China hopes to conduct a spacewalk in 2007 and might recruit women into its next group of astronaut candidates, a senior space program official said Monday following the safe completion of the nation's second manned mission. The Shenzhou 6 flight ended the first stage of China's plan, which focused on development of space vehicles, said Tang Xianming, director of the China Space Engineering Office.
The next stage focuses on developing ways for astronauts to walk in space and the ability to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft, he said.
The space capsule carrying two Chinese astronauts landed by parachute in the country's northern grasslands before dawn Monday following a five-day mission meant to affirm China's status as an emerging space power. Astronauts Fei and Nie were "in good health" and "feeling good" after their Shenzhou 6 capsule touched down at 4:32 a.m. (2032 GMT) in the Inner Mongolia region, the official Xinhua News Agency said. "Our estimate is that around 2007 we will be able to achieve extravehicular activity by our astronauts and they will walk in space," he said at a news conference.
Tang said he also expected to see female Chinese astronauts "in the not-too-distant future."
"At present, we do not have women participants among our astronaut candidates," he said. "But according to our development program and plans for manned space engineering, for the next round of selections, we might consider having some female astronauts."
The Shenzhou 6 capsule carrying astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng landed before dawn Monday by parachute in China's northern grasslands after a five-day mission.
Crews rushed to the site in helicopters and off-road vehicles. State television showed the astronauts climbing out of their kettle-shaped capsule with the help of two technicians and clambering down a ladder in the darkness.
They smiled, waved to the cheering ground crew, accepted bouquets of flowers and sat in metal chairs beside the capsule.