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China gears up for manned space docking in June

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The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft. A Xinhua photo.

BEIJING (PTI): China has announced plans to launch its first manned docking in space this month with three astronauts, which might include a woman, as part of its aim to set up a permanent space station in orbit by 2020.

The 'Shenzhou-9' spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, were moved Saturday to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China for a blast-off in mid-June, state-run Xinhua news agency said.

The mission plans to accomplish its first manned space docking mission with the orbiting space lab module, it said quoting a spokesperson from the country's manned space programme.

The Shenzhou-9 will be launched into space "sometime in mid June" with three astronauts to perform China's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting lab module.

China sent its first manned spaceflight in 2003 and has since conducted many such missions. The official said that the new mission Shenzhou-9 crew may include a woman cosmonaut.

In the next few days, scientists will conduct functional tests on the spacecraft and the rocket, as well as joint tests on selected astronauts, spacecraft, rocket and ground systems, the official said.

The unmanned docking was successfully tested last year. The Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, was lowered to docking orbit in early June and is orbiting normally.

China wants its lab to be a rival to Russia's space lab currently being operated jointly with the United States. It is much smaller compared to the space lab.

The final preparations are running smoothly, and the selected astronauts have completed their training and are in sound physical and mental conditions, the spokesperson said.

Three astronauts were expected to be picked out of the seven who underwent training, an official said in March. If chosen they will be the first women astronauts from China. The seven candidates were picked from fighter pilots.


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