Chinese businessman books quick getaway in space

A Chinese businessman has paid $100,000 for a 90-minute voyage that will make him China's first tourist in space, the China Daily said on Friday.

Jiang Fang, president of a Hong Kong company that acts as the China agent for U.S.-based space tourism firm Space Adventures, would experience zero gravity on one of the company's sub-orbital flights due for launch in 2007, the China Daily said.

That same year, China plans to launch its third manned space flight, which should include the country's first spacewalk.

American millionaire Gregory Olsen returned earlier this month from a one-week stint on the International Space Station arranged by Space Adventures at a price of $20 million.

Space fever is running high in China after safe return of its second manned space mission, the Shenzhou VI, on Monday and could spike again when a television show offering an insider's view of the national space programme hits screens this month, reports Reuters.

The firm sent the world's first three space tourists Dennis Tito in 2001, Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and Greg Olsen this year to the International Space Station at a cost of a cool US$20 million each.

Jiang said he is keen to experience the feeling of zero-gravity in the one-and-half-hour sub-orbital mission where the craft flies at an altitude of 100 kilometres. A commercial jet flies at about 12 kilometres while Shenzhou VI flew at an altitude of between 200 and 344 kilometres.

"I want to experience weightlessness and explore the wonders of space," said Jiang, president of Hong Kong Space Travel Ltd, which is the Chinese agent for Space Adventure.

He explained that he decided to become the agent for the US company after applying for the trip.

His company offers services ranging from orbital and sub-orbital flights to space-flight training and other space-related adventures. The applicant doesn't need any special approval from the government.

The company is even offering a free seat for a sub-orbital adventure at an unspecified time but Chinese people seem content to watch the heroes of the country's latest manned mission, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, on television Jiang said no one had booked a trip.

Yesterday's press conference shed a little more light on the man whom the media reported in February would be China's first space tourist.

The only information available then was that the man was surnamed Jiang; he was from Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province; and had applied for a space trip, informs Xinhua.

Photo: P.T.