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 this morning 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.
China's first female astronaut, 33-year-old Liu Yang from the Chinese Air Force Wuhan Flight Unit, will join Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft docking mission. "They [inlcuding Yang] are selected as members of the first batch of female astronauts in China because of their excellent flight skills and psychological quality," Xinhua reported.
All three crew members, Commander Jing Haipeng, Liu Yang, and Liu Wang, are members of the Communist Party of China.
A send off ceremony took place early this morning (EDT), the Chinese astronauts are now aboard the spacecraft awaiting countdown for launch which is scheduled for 6:37 p.m. local Chinese time (6:37 a.m. EDT).
"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.
The full story reported in English by the Chinese news agency Xinhua can be found here.