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China to mark 10 years of manned spaceflight


A file photo.

BEIJING (AFP): China marks 10 years since it first sent a human into space on Tuesday, with its ambitious programme rocketing ahead while rival NASA is largely closed due to the US government shutdown.

Yang Liwei orbited the Earth 14 times during his 21-hour flight aboard the Shenzhou 5 in 2003, blazing a trail into the cosmos for China.

More than 40 years after Yuri Gagarin's groundbreaking journey, the mission made China only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the US to carry out an independent manned spaceflight.

At the time, Beijing was so concerned about the viability of the mission that at the last minute it cancelled a nationwide live television broadcast of the launch.

But since then, China has sent a total of 10 astronauts -- eight men and two women -- into space on five separate missions, and launched an orbiting space module, Tiangong-1.

Its latest manned trip, the Shenzhou 10 in June, was not only greeted with wall-to-wall TV coverage, but also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who told the crew their 15-day mission represented a step towards making the country stronger and a "space dream" for the Chinese people.

Chinese firms have seized on the anniversary to promote goods from watches to engine oil, including a 9,800 yuan (USD 1,600) set of teapots said to be signed by all its space voyagers.

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