CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- While it could be several years before another manned space mission launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, China will launch three Chinese astronauts aboard its Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft sometime in mid-June from northwest China to perform the country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module according to China's state news agency Xinhua.
Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the country's manned space program, told Xinhua that the three-person crew on Shenzhou-9 might include female astronauts, but that the final selection would be decided "on the very last condition."
"The Shenzhou-9 will perform our country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module," Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program, said as he accompanied the spacecraft to the launch platform, "It means China's spacecraft will become a genuine manned shuttle tool between space and Earth. It can send human beings to space stations or space labs. This will be a significant step in China's manned space flight history," Zhou said.
In the next few days, scientists will conduct functional tests on the spacecraft and the rocket, as well as joint tests on selected astronauts, spacecraft, rocket and ground systems, according to the spokesperson.