China is preparing to launch a man into orbit around the Earth next week, fulfilling a long-held dream making it the third country to embark on manned space flight.

An air force pilot ¨C known as a taikonaut ¨C is scheduled to board Shenzhou 5, a three-seater spacecraft, in western China on the morning of October 15 to fly once around the globe.

China's manned venture to orbit the globe is part of an ambitious program to explore and develop space for both civilian and military purposes. In recent weeks, scientists have vowed that China would send a rocket to the moon, establish a space station, ring the globe with high-precision satellites and probe the possibility of extracting the moon's mineral wealth, particularly helium-3, a potential energy source.

"It is a dream of Chinese for generations," said Long Lehao, China's top rocket designer.

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