10 Jun 2012

China to launch manned spacecraft

8:59 am on 10 June 2012

China will launch a spacecraft this month to conduct its first manned space docking, the latest step in a plan aimed at giving the country a permanent space station by 2020.

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket have been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China.

Officials said the mission would involve three astronauts manually docking with the Tiangong-1 module that is orbiting Earth, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The crew may include female astronauts for the first time.

The launch is China's first manned space mission since September 2008.

China sent its first person into space in 2003 and has since conducted several manned missions.

After the space rendezvous, two of the astronauts will move temporarily into the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace), where they will perform scientific experiments.

One will remain on board the spacecraft in case of an emergency, according to the official quoted by Xinhua.

Tiangong-1, China's first space station module, was launched in September.

In November, an unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft returned to Earth after completing two space dockings with the module.

The current program aims to provide China with a space station in which a crew can live independently for several months, as at the old Russian Mir facility or the International Space Station.