After a decade of preparation, China will launch its first human being into space on October 15 in a 90-minute flight that will orbit the Earth once, a top government rocketry official said.
Xie Guangxuan, director of China Rocket Design Department, were reported by Sina.com, China's leading website.
The report implied that the flight, the Shenzhou V, would carry one human being in its bid to make China the world's third space-faring nation.
"China's space technology has been created by China itself. We may have started later than Russia and the United States, but it's amazing how fast we've been able to do this," Xie was quoted as saying. Xie said that he was "full of confidence" about the success of the much-expected launch.
The flight would take place a day after the closing of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee's 3rd plenum, a major political meeting. That schedule - coupled with the National Day holiday last week - illustrates China's long-held desire to hold up its space program as a patriotic endeavor, the Associated Press said in a reported filed from Beijing.
The launch of the 8-ton craft will be televised nationally on China Central Television Channel 4 and 9, the report said. If the launch is completed successfully, China would join the United States and the former Soviet Union, the only countries that have sent manned craft into space.
Xie was quoted as saying that Shenzhou V - the name means "sacred vessel" in Chinese - would orbit the Earth once before returning. It would carry 2.2 pounds of plant seeds for research - but no scientific equipment "to ensure the astronaut has enough space," the report said.
Xie didn't say how many astronauts would be participating in the maiden mission.
The Beijing Star Daily said 14 would-be astronauts had arrived at the Jiuquan Space Centre, in Northwest China's Gansu Province, and three would be chosen as the finalists to soar into orbit. The Beijing Star Daily said the Shenzhou V has "entered the final stage of general tests."
"I can guarantee you that most of the astronauts can fulfill their assignment successfully," one official was quoted as saying in the report by the Guangzhou-based Express News.
Another official who the newspaper said will select the three was quoted as saying he was seeking "a middle-sized figure, nimble movement, the ability to withstand hardships and a teamwork mindset." Those traits, he said, "are the main things we're looking for in Chinese astronauts."
All 14 have qualified for space travel and passed psychological tests "with honors," the newspaper said.
The mission will also herald the debut of authentic Chinese food in space, another Web site reported.
"They'll be able to eat shredded pork with garlic sauce and kungpao chicken," China.com, said. "It will be more tasty than Western food. After the meal, green tea will be available to increase the astronaut's spirits."
Four unmanned Shenzhou capsules have been launched so far, orbiting the Earth for up to a week and landing by parachute in the northern grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Like other details, the cost of the program is secret but is believed to total $1 billion, the Associated Press reported.