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Launch platform readied for space mission

(China Daily)

08:29, June 11, 2012

Shenzhou-IX manned spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, have been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China, June 9, 2012. (Photo/Xinhua)

China will launch its Shenzhou IX manned spacecraft sometime in mid-June to perform the country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, a spokesperson with China's manned space program said on Saturday.

By 10:30 am on Saturday, the spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, had been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China, signaling the preparation work for the mission has entered the last stage, the anonymous spokesperson said in a public statement.

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program, said at the launch center on Saturday that the mission will be "a significant step in China's space history", because the spacecraft will send astronauts into a space lab for the first time, instead of just carrying them to circle the Earth in previous three manned missions.

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

Zhang Yonghua, deputy chief designer of the launch center system, said that the air-conditioning and fire-fighting systems in the launching tower have been improved for this manned mission so as to strengthen facilities' stability and ensure the safety of astronauts.

The spokesperson said that Shenzhou IX and its carrier rocket were delivered to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in early April this year.

The Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, was lowered to the docking orbit in early June and is now orbiting normally.

The final preparations are running smoothly, and the selected astronauts have completed their training and are in sound physical and mental condition, said the spokesperson, without specifying their names.

Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the country's manned space program, said earlier that the three-person crew on Shenzhou IX might include female astronauts, but the final selection would be decided based on conditions near the time of launch.

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