With China on track to become the world's top tourism destination as well as the biggest generator of global tourists, China's space officials are looking even further afield.
According to Yuan Jiajun, chief commander of China's space program and president of the China Academy of Space Technology, the era of the Chinese space tourist could be here in the space of just two decades.
It is an ambitious target for a country which has, to date, put a total of one human being into space.
For Yuan, however, it is a simple matter of economic common sense.
While the government is lavishing funds on human space flight for scientific and undoubtedly military purposes, not to mention national prestige, space exploration will inevitably take a commercial turn: space travel, then, will have to deliver financial returns in order to survive, Yuan reasons.
Therefore, to spur future manned space flights, China must establish "a sound mechanism to commercialize its space technology," he told a symposium in Beijing. He said the key to developing "a booming space tourism industry" was cutting costs and ensuring safety. That way, Yuan said, he was confident that within 20 years China's space industry would begin to enable ordinary Chinese to "realize their dream of space travel."
To date, much of China's space technology has been directed at exclusively military or scientific programs, but Yuan said commercial civil purposes would come to play an increasingly important role.
China is already looking to make greater use of its rocket technology in the international commercial satellite market, with plans awaiting government approval to begin development work on the country's most powerful rocket to date, more than doubling the maximum launch payload capability of its current Long March fleet.
Yuan's prediction came as state media reported that China's second manned space flight would blast off with two astronauts aboard for a five-day mission sometime in 2005.
The announcement came just over a year after Yang Liwei became China's first astronaut, orbiting the Earth for less than a day.
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