China is planning to launch the Shenzhou V spacecraft between October 15 and 17. This will make China the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to put a man in space. The spaceship will be launched in the Gobi desert, and will orbit Earth 14 times.
Sources at two major state-run television stations and a tour operator told Reuters early this week the launch had been provisionally set for the morning of October 15, barring bad weather.
And Hong Kong's Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper said the craft would fly for 21 hours, or 90 minutes per orbit, before floating back down to Earth the next morning.
It did not say how many astronauts would be taking part in the maiden voyage, but that a team had been trained for the mission.
A successful manned flight, on the heels of Beijing winning a bid to host the 2008 Olympics, could fuel nationalism and offer a boost to the Communist Party as China seeks a place on the world stage alongside the traditional great powers.
Any failure would be a loss of face and would raise questions about the necessity of a space program in a country where 140 million people live on less than $1 a day.