China is planning a second unmanned space flight later this month to launch an astronaut into space within the next two years. This would make China, after Russia and the US, the third nation in the world to send astronauts into space.

Preparations for the launch of "Shenzhou 2" (Magic Ship) are already in progress at the Jiuquan Space Center in Gansu Province, informed circles in Beijing said.

The flight of the first Chinese astronaut was planned before March 2003. Overall, there should be two or three such test flights. Leading scientists Beijing institutes have already gathered in Jiuquan. On November 20, 1999, China first sent an unmanned "Shenzhou" spacecraft into orbit and successfully brought it back to Earth. After 14 circumnavigations, the capsule landed safely in Inner Mongolia.

The unmanned flights also serve scientific experiments. China has an ambitious space program and since 1979 successfully sends its own and international satellites into space.

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