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Shenzhou ready for service

(China Daily)

08:44, March 01, 2013

The manned Shenzhou X spacecraft will be launched between June and August and dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module, said a spokesperson for China's manned space program in a news release on Thursday.

"The flight marks the first application of the manned spacecraft system," the spokesperson said.

Previous flights of Shenzhou spacecraft were all experimental, aiming to test technologies and reliability, said a publicity official with the program, who declined to be named.

"Just like a high-speed train will have a trial-run period, the manned spacecraft system has ended its 'trial run' and will now be put into service," said a senior editor at the monthly publication Space International, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the news release, three astronauts will board the Shenzhou-X spacecraft. Their names, gender and other information remain unknown. Usually, the list of names is not released until a few days before the mission.

But earlier news reports quoted Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of China's manned space program, as saying on the sidelines of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November 2012 that the crew might be two men and a woman.

The Shenzhou X mission includes carrying out experiments on fixing spacecraft in orbit and testing key technologies used in space station building, said the spokesperson.

The mission will also for the first time have astronauts give a science lecture from space to adolescents, said the spokesperson.

The space magazine editor said that the lecture is expected to stimulate Chinese youngsters' interest in space.

According to the news release, the assembly of the Shenzhou X spacecraft is complete, and the spacecraft is now under testing before leaving for the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which is in the Gobi desert.

The Long March 2F launch vehicle has gone through testing, and preparations for transporting it to the launch center are under way.

Meanwhile, the Tiangong-1 space module, which was launched into space in 2011, is now in good condition.

China has launched four unmanned and five manned Shenzhou spacecraft, and an unmanned Tiangong-1 space module since the manned space program started in 1992.

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