President Hu Jintao to meet taikonauts before Shenzhou launch

China's official media coverage of the country's first ever manned space mission, due to blast off this week, reached fever pitch Monday, as President Hu Jintao planned a rushed trip to the launch center to speak to the astronauts in person, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.

According to Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper, Hu would travel to Jiuquan, on the border between Inner Mongolia and Gansu province, as soon as the third plenary session of the 16th Communist Party Central Committee closed in Beijing on Tuesday.

"Hu Jintao...will make a special trip to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center prior to the launch, where he will receive the astronaut(s) twice in less than a half-day's time to relay the profound encouragement and ardent wishes of the new generation of leaders," the paper reported.

Dependent on weather conditions, the paper said, the Shenzhou V spacecraft would blast off on Oct. 15, carrying one Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, from the Chinese word for space. Hu would make a flying visit to lend support ahead of the launch, forsaking the pressing affairs of state in the wake of the CPC plenum, it said.

The timing of the launch has been announced as somewhere between Oct. 15-17. Last minute calculations will aim to ensure that the spacecraft is positioned in orbit with its solar panels facing the sun, to ensure adequate energy supply, correct temperatures, and the proper functioning of infrared equipment during the flight, launch officials told the official Xinhua news agency.

"It is very difficult to satisfy all these requirements simultaneously when it flies in orbit," said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of spaceship launch center system, in Jiuquan. "The latitude is very small for choosing the 'window' as climatic conditions vary in different seasons," he said.

The launch window would also depend on wind speeds and outside temperatures, which have been falling in recent days, prompting a postponement from a projected launch date of Oct. 10, Xinhua said.

The Shenzhou V, whose name means "Divine Vessel," but is also a pun on a poetic word for China, is scheduled to blast off from Dongfeng Aerospace City in Inner Mongolia. The flight will be coordinated from the Jiuquan facility, which is a separate location.

Jiuquan-based media were operating under a lock-in rule, with contact forbidden with the outside world ahead of the launch. The Dongfeng space city has been under total curfew since Oct. 12, and no unauthorized vehicles are allowed in, according to the Chengdu Evening News . Only media organizations with the highest levels of clearance are permitted to cover the event.

As temperatures dropped sharply in the region, the space city was packed with launch-related officials, party and government delegations from all over China, together with reporters and military personnel. Many were thronging the freezing streets with their luggage, seeking accommodation, the Wen Wei Po reported.


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