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China's manned spacecraft in final preparations for mid-June launch

By Li Huizi (Xinhua)

10:04, June 14, 2012

The Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft, the Long March-2F rocket, and the escape tower are vertically transferred to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, June 9, 2012. China will launch its Shenzhou-9 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 the country's manned space program said here Saturday. (Xinhua/Wang Jianmin)

JIUQUAN, Gansu, June 13 (Xinhua) -- China's Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft is in final preparations for its launch in mid-June, paving the way for China's first manned space docking mission, as well as the country's first space mission featuring a female astronaut.

The mission will feature the country's first attempt at manual space docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module, as well as tasks to be completed aboard the Tiangong-1 by astronauts from the Shenzhou-9, space experts said at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi desert.

China will launch the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft sometime in mid-June, a spokesperson said last Saturday.

"The launch of the Shenzhou-9 is a highly influential event that marks an important milestone for the development of China's space technology," Cui Jijun, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, said on Wednesday.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of China's manned space program, which was officially initiated on Sept. 21, 1992. The launch of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft marks the program's 10th launch and the country's fourth manned spaceflight.

China aims to build a space station around 2020 based on the space rendezvous and docking technology that is currently being tested. Several components will be sent into space separately before being assembled into a space station through a variety of docking procedures.

"In the Russian and USA space programs, the most serious docking problems have been caused by automatic docking systems, more so than by manual docking," said Pat Norris, chairman of the Royal Aeronautical Society Space Group.

"China has taken the prudent course of verifying new space technology in robotic flights before applying it to human space missions," he said, referring to last November's unmanned Shenzhou-8 mission to test docking technology, as well as four unmanned missions that took place before the launch of the Shenzhou-5, which took astronaut Yang Liwei into space in 2003 and orbited Earth 14 times.

"China is only the third nation to launch humans into space, which is a very impressive achievement," said Norris, who is also a member of the Executive Committee of the UK Parliamentary Space Committee.

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