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China's first manual space docking hopefully 2012

(Xinhua)

13:17, October 31, 2011

JIUQUAN, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- China plans to fulfill its first ever manual space docking by 2012, probably with women astronauts.

Between the two spacecraft launches, which are scheduled both in 2012 for space docking attempts, a China manned space program spokeswoman said Monday, "at least one of the two missions will be manned."

Spokeswoman Wu Ping announced that the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 is scheduled to be launched at 5:58 a.m. Tuesday, carried by a modified Long March-2F rocket, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gobi desert.

The Shenzhou-8 is expected to attempt China's first space rendezvous and docking with Tiangong-1, an unmanned lab module sent into space in late September. The practice will take place within two days after the launch of Shenzhou-8, the latest step in what will be a decade-long effort to place a manned permanent space station into orbit.

The target orbiter Tiangong-1 was designed for multiple dockings, accommodating not only Shenzhou-8, but also another two vehicles Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10, at least one of which will carry astronauts.

The crew members, including two female astronauts, have already been selected for the potential space docking missions in 2012 and are being trained with manual docking skills, Wu said.

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