Soon after declaring the success of its first manned space mission a success, a China has said it wants eventually to send up a permanently inhabited space station following further flights of Shenzhou space capsules meant to develop spacewalking and orbital docking skills, the next of which should be launched by 2005.

"The maiden manned spaceflight is the first step of China's space program," said Xie Mingbao, director of the China Manned Space Program Engineering Office, adding that the next stage would be a space lab that could support a crew for limited periods.

"The third step is to develop a space station according to demand and solve the problems related to the application of a manned space station," Xie said. "Our space program has just begun developing China's space lab. We are not actually planning to catch up with the (former Russian) Mir space station or the International Space Station at this moment."


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