China has successfully launched its fourth unmanned spacecraft. Monday's rocket test brings China closer to its dream of sending a human being into orbit.
Chinese state media say that the Shenzhou Four spacecraft is circling the earth once every 90 minutes, carrying all the equipment and systems needed for manned flight. State television showed the aircraft taking off into space from a desert launch pad in China's northwestern Gansu Province early Monday. This is the second time in a year that China has launched an unmanned spacecraft. Shenzhou Four will fly in space for several days before landing.
State media hailed the launch as laying a solid foundation for China to send astronauts into space.
A successful manned space flight would make China the third country to send people into orbit, behind only Russia, which was the first, and the United States.
Beijing sees its secretive space program as an important sign of its prestige and greatness as a nation. It does not announce space launches in advance and has not set a date for manned flight. But state media Monday quote a commander of China's space program as saying that Chinese astronauts are "absolutely capable" of making their maiden voyage to outer space.
China launched its first unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft in 1999. The capsule, whose name means "Divine Ship," was built by Chinese designers based on Russian technology.