With the unmanned Shenzhou 8 on the verge of its Tuesday launch, a spokeswoman for China’s space program announced plans for up to two manned space missions in 2012. From Reuters:
The rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels are part of China’s effort to develop the technological and logistical skills needed to run a full space lab that could house astronauts for long stretches.
The next step, planned for 2012, will entail similar exercises with at least one mission carrying astronauts onboard, Wu told a news conference at the launch site in the Gobi Desert, according to a transcript on an official news website (www.china.com.cn).
“Next year, we will carry out the Shenzhou 9 and 10 flight missions, and they will also carry out rendezvous and docking tests with the Tiangong 1,” said Wu.
“According to the mission plans, at least one of the two flights next year will be manned,” she added.