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China to carry out first spacewalk in late 2008

China plans to carry out its first spacewalk in second half of the year, an official of the nation's manned space program said.

The Shenzhou VII spacecraft will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu late in the year and the astronauts will leave their spacecraft for the first time, the official told Xinhua.

The spacecraft will also release a small inspection satellite, which monitors its own performance.

Breakthroughs have been made in significant techniques related to the space walk. Research into the development of spacecraft and rockets has been going smoothly, and astronauts have undertaken extensive training, according to the official.

China began its manned space program in 1999. It successfully sent Yang Liwei into orbit on the Shenzhou V spacecraft in 2003.

Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a Chinese record of five-day flight on the Shenzhou VI. All returned safely. (Xinhua)