China says may take tourists into space

CHINA may one day offer trips into space for tourists, a senior official said yesterday, outlining the country’s plans to launch more rockets, explore the moon and even help farmers by using satellite transmissions.


Sun La

iyan, head of the China National Space Administration, also defended the cost of the space programme, saying Beijing spent far less than the United States, it benefited ordinary people and was anyway a matter of national pride.


In 2003, China became only the third country — after the United States and the former Soviet Union — to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket. In October 2005, it sent two men into orbit and plans a space walk by 2008.


“The success of our manned space missions, becoming only the third country in the world to put a man into space on our own, is a source of pride for the Chinese nation,” Sun told a news conference to launch a white paper on the next five years of the space programme.


Next year China plans to send a probe to orbit the moon, laying the way for a possible manned mission further down the road, Sun said, though he would not provide a timetable.


Sending up tourists, like Iranian-American telecom billionaire Anousheh Ansari who paid US$20 million for a stay on the International Space Station, is another option China could go for, Sun said.


“Once our technology is more mature, more reliable, there is this possibility. Not only male tourists, but female too,” he said.


Sun defended the billions of dollars China — a developing country where millions still struggle to clothe and feed themselves — earmarks for space exploration. — Reuter.