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China scraps live TV space plan

Launch preparations are receiving blanket coverage in the Chinese media.
Launch preparations are receiving blanket coverage in the Chinese media.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- China has scrubbed plans to broadcast live the imminent launch of its first manned space flight, state media reports.

The launch, scheduled to blast off sometime between Wednesday and Friday, was expected to go out live on state-run CCTV, but plans were cancelled on the advice of "space experts," the China Daily reported Tuesday.

Instead CCTV has promised to transmit images of the launch of the Shenzhou V spacecraft as soon as possible after the event, the report said.

Media speculation is growing the launch will take place Wednesday morning with senior leaders such as President Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin expected to be in attendance at the remote Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi Desert. (Launch site satellite photo)

A test run-through of procedures held Monday went smoothly and three astronauts short-listed to pilot the first flight have arrived at the site, newspaper reports said.

Just one of those three is expected to become China's first man in space, following a final selection to be held Tuesday.

Risks

According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post the live broadcast was cancelled "because the leadership considered the political risks of a failure too great," the newspaper said citing unidentified "media sources."

China's military-linked space program is shrouded in secrecy -- previous launches were not announced in advance and live broadcasts are rare.

However, the country's leaders see the launch of China's first astronaut as a way of boosting national pride and demonstrating the nation's technological prowess.

As a result they have sent the publicity machine into overdrive with state media closely following the final preparations for launch and newspapers emblazoned with patriotic fervor.

Nonetheless, experts say the leadership is wary of concerns that the launch may fail, striking a damaging blow to national pride and the image of the communist party.

In 1995 a Long March rocket veered off course on take off and exploded, killing six people on the ground.

The accident was broadcast live on national television and observers say it continues to cast a cloud over the current space program.

All being well the flight of the Shenzhou V is expected to orbit Earth 14 times, reportedly for 21 hours, before returning to a landing site in Inner Mongolia.

If it is a success the flight will bring China membership of an elite club of space powers. It will be only the third country after Russia and the United States capable of launching manned space missions.


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