Chinese space planners have outlined the objectives for the next several missions of their piloted Shenzhou missions. Next up is Shenzhou 7, China's third human spaceflight that will liftoff in 2008 and include a space walk.

According to a February 24 report in China Daily, Shenzhou 8 is set to showcase the ability to dock, with that expertise leading to China establishing its own space station.

This step-by-step effort has been outlined by Wang Zhougui, director of China Manned Space Flight Engineering Office during a recent lecture, according to China Daily.

Wang was quoted as saying that one or two astronauts would walk in space for roughly one-half hour. Shenzhou 8's mission of docking in space would be launched around 2009 to 2011, he noted.

Independent means

While far from fast-paced, China appears to be on a steady track to demonstrate various space abilities.

After a succession of unpiloted Shenzhou shakeout flights, China carried out its first piloted mission in October 2003, a flight that lasted less than a day. The solo pilot was Yang Liwei.

Two years later, China's second piloted mission in October 2005 was a two-person flight. The Shenzhou 6 craft carried Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, staying aloft for five days.

Utilized to launch the Shenzhou spacecraft is China's CZ-2F rocket, topped by an escape tower designed to pull the vehicle free in case of a booster problem. That nation's human space voyages depart from the sprawling Jiuquan Space Launch Center in northwestern Gansu Province.

China is the third country to demonstrate independent means to carry out Earth-orbiting human space flight. The former Soviet Union flew the first human into Earth orbit, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961, followed by the U.S. orbital mission of John Glenn in 1962.

Moon also target

China is also eyeing the Moon as a target.

China Daily reported last year that work continues on that nation's Chang'e-1 robotic lunar orbiter intended for launch in 2007.

A Chinese automated lunar lander would follow in 2012, with the nation's space engineers reportedly targeting 2017 as the time period for a robotic return of lunar samples back to Earth.

According to some reports, China is also committed to a follow-on human voyage to the Moon.