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BEIJING - When China launched the prototype of a space vessel into orbit for a test flight in March, it sent the strongest signal yet of its intent to join that elite club of nations capable of putting a human in space.
And after a decade of preparation, China is confident enough now to aim for its first manned flight next year.
The March test flight - when an unmanned capsule was powered into space atop the Long March rocket - showed that China's experimental craft had met all the reliability and safety requirements for piloted flight.
That craft, the Shenzhou III, included a simulated human complete with sensors to monitor conditions.