By successfully launching a second manned space flight yesterday, Chinese leaders proved that they had a consistent space programme that was here to stay, foreign experts said. 'The launch shows that this was not a one-time deal. This is a serious programme,' said Joan Johnson-Freese, a Chinese space programme expert at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island. 'This demonstrates to the world that China is more than just about producing cheap sneakers. China is pursuing a manned space programme even though its cost is tenfold [that of an unmanned programme] for the same reason that the US pursued Apollo: prestige.' Shenzhou VI's blastoff yesterday morning came two years after China put its first man into space for a 21-hour mission. There has been no official announcement on the price tag of the latest mission, but Jiang Jingshan , a designer with the Chinese Lunar Orbiting Exploration programme, had earlier put it at 20 billion yuan. China's ambitions do not stop at sending men into space. It has plans to send a man to the moon and set up a space station by 2020, Professor Jiang told the South China Morning Post. He added that the Chinese space budget was only one-eighth of the Americans' and it would therefore build a smaller space station. Dr Johnson-Freese said the Chinese programme was on the way to achieving its target of setting up a space station. 'In the manned [space] programme, China seems to have an advantage over the US just because of consistency,' she said. 'Manned flight is very difficult in a democracy because of the cost. By launching every two years they're [China] moving in a way that the US hasn't been able to demonstrate.' But Dr Johnson-Freese noted that even though China was perceived to be catching up with the US in manned space flight, it still had a long way to go technologically to compete with US expertise. While observers acknowledged that a main reason for China's manned space programme was prestige, they said its other missions were more economically driven. Since the Chinese space programme started in 1956, it has launched satellites into space for meteorological, communications, earth imaging and navigation purposes, with military potential. John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, said China's progress had slowed in recent years compared with the first few years after its first unmanned mission in 1999. But he questioned Chinese media reports which quoted experts as saying that the mission was nearly 100 per cent safe. 'With only one manned mission finished so far, China does not have the basis to say the mission is 99 per cent safe,' he said. 'That's simply what they hope it is. But the mission is still risky.' He added that the US was unlikely to welcome China's latest bid to join the elite club of space powers. Despite China's willingness to collaborate with other nations, notably the US, Professor Logsdon said international co-operation would be decided by political ties. Professor Jiang criticised the US for its reluctance to co-operate. 'Unlike Russia, China's long-time collaborator, the US has refused to open doors [for co-operation]. It cannot be in America's interests to do that,' he said.