Chinese President Praises Shenzhou 6 Crew
Chinese astronauts Fei Junlong (right) and Nie Haisheng eat breakfast 213 miles (343 kilometers) above Earth on Oct. 14, 2005.
Credit: China National Space Administration/Xinhuanet/CCTV.

China's two astronauts orbiting Earth aboard their Shenzhou 6 spacecraft received a call Saturday from President Hu Jintao, who praised their efforts and wished them a "triumphant return," according to state media reports.

"The motherland and people are proud of you," Hu said in the long distance phone call according to China's Xinhua News Agency. "I hope you will successfully complete your task by carrying out the mission calmly and carefully and have a triumphant return."

Shenzhou 6 astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng launched into orbit on Oct. 12 Beijing Time (late Oct. 11 EDT) on China's second manned spaceflight and its first to carry two space flyers on a multi-day trip. They are now in their fourth day of their mission and have traveled more than 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers), according to state media reports.

"The spacecraft is working well and we are feeling good," Nie told Hu, Xinhua reported. "You can rest assured, and all the people of the motherland can rest assured."

Hu spoke to the Shenzhou 6 crew from Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, and later address mission scientists and flight controllers there, encouraging them to return Fei and Nie safely back to Earth, Xinhua said.

Fei and Nie are slated to spend up to five days, though there has been no official word from China's government on when they will land. Xinhua has reported that the astronauts carried enough supplies into space with them to last seven days if needed.

China eyes island spaceport

Even before the two astronauts land, Xinhua reported that Chinese space officials may choose the southern province of its tropical island Hainan as a new spaceport to launch its next generation rockets.

The location, however, comes as no surprise to China space experts, who said discussions of a Hainan space launch site have been going for at least five years.

"The island's huge, and the [People's Liberation Army] owns several bases on Hainan," China space specialist Dean Cheng told SPACE.com in an earlier interview. "It gives them immediate access to the land."

Located in the South China Sea, Hainan is closer to the equator and could provide some advantages over China's three other launch sites - including the northwestern-located Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center used to loft Shenzhou 6 - including heavier payloads and launching over water, China space experts said. Equatorial or near-equatorial launch sites are also used by Sea Launch and Europe's Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

Liu Zhusheng, chief designer of China's carrier rocket system, told Xinhua that the new booster will be designed to loft payloads of between 1.2 and 25 tons into low Earth orbit, and 1.8 to 14 tons into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. A heavy-lift rocket woul

China's current Long March rocket family - Shenzou 6 rode a Long March 2F into orbit - boasts four series and 12 separate models with payload capacities of up to 12 tons for low Earth orbit space shots and about 5.2 tons into geosynchronous transfer orbits, according to state media reports.

China's next generation rocket family, the Long March 5, is reportedly undergoing ground tests, said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on China's space efforts chair of National Security Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in an earlier interview.

Johnson-Freese said China will likely have to build a new launch facility to suit the new rocket.

China has announced ambitions to build a manned space station for science research, as well as an unmanned Moon probe to launch by 2010.

The country is the third nation to independently build and launch manned spacecraft into orbit. Shenzhou 5, China's first piloted spaceflight, launched astronaut Yang Liwei on a 14-orbit, 21 ? hour mission on Oct. 15, 2003.