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China plans its first manned space docking this month

China’s space agency said it will launch astronauts later in June

Written by New York Times | Hong Kong |
June 10, 2012 1:54:58 am

KEVIN DREW

China’s space agency on Saturday said it will launch astronauts later in June to perform the country’s first manned space docking,the latest step in the country’s ambitious plan for space exploration.

The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong 1 orbital module “sometime in mid-June,” according to Xinhua,China’s official news agency. The government did not say how long the mission will last.

Niu Hongguang,deputy commander-in-chief of the country’s manned space programme,said the three-person crew may include female astronauts,Xinhua reported,but the decision will be made “on the very last condition.”

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On Saturday,the spacecraft and its carrier rocket were moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre,a rocket-launching complex in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. In the coming days,tests will be performed on the selected astronauts,the spacecraft,carrier rocket and ground systems,according to Xinhua.

One crew member will remain aboard the Shenzhou 9 as a precautionary measure while the others enter the orbital module,Xinhua said.

Beijing announced last December a five-year plan for space exploration that includes launching a space lab and collecting samples from the moon by 2016. The government has previously vowed to reach the moon and launch its own manned space station by 2020.

The plan,released by the State Council,China’s cabinet,shows how Beijing intends to draw on its military and civilian resources to reach the goals.

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