China to launch second space mission this week

China's second manned space mission will be launched this week, carrying two astronauts into orbit on a flight lasting several days, the government announced Tuesday. A rocket carrying the Shenzhou VI space capsule will blast off at an unspecified "proper time" between Wednesday and Saturday, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a space program official.

The flight will lift off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert of China's northwest, Xinhua said. It said a crew had been picked from a field of six finalists but didn't give their names.

The flight is to last "several days," Xinhua said, without giving any other details. Earlier reports said it would last five days.

A Chinese newspaper identified the pilot of Shenzhou VI as Fei Junlong and said he would be accompanied by Nie Haisheng. The report by the Chongqing Morning Post didn't cite a source. Nie was among three finalists for China's first manned space flight in 2003. He lost out to Col. Yang Liwei, who spent 21 1/2 hours in orbit before his capsule landed by parachute in China's northern grasslands.

The flight this week will also be more complicated than the 2003 mission, according to state media.

Reports say the two astronauts will take off their 10-kilogram (22-pound) space suits to travel back and forth between the two halves of their vessel _ a re-entry capsule and an orbiter that is to stay aloft after they land.

They will also conduct experiments, Xinhua said, but details have yet to be released.

The official China Daily newspaper on Tuesday dismissed rumors that plant seeds and animal semen would be carried in the capsule in order to study the effects of radiation, reports the AP. I.L.

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