China to Launch Manned Spacecraft
In accordance with their long-term space plan and planned missions for 2012, China is planning a manned space docking later in June. CNN reports:
The Shenzhou-9 was moved to a launch platform Saturday to allow scientists to conduct tests before the mid-June flight, Xinhua news agency reported.
This will be China’s first crew expedition involving manual docking. If all goes as planned, it will be the third nation, next to the U.S. and Russia, to dock capsules in space.
“It demonstrates China’s continued commitment to becoming a first-class space power with an independent space capability,” Taylor Fravel, associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said this year when China announced its plans.
While the exact dates and the duration of the launch have yet to be revealed, other details, such as the launch site, have been announced. The New York Times adds:
On Saturday the spacecraft and its carrier rocket were moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, a rocket-launching complex in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. In the coming days, tests will be performed on the selected astronauts, the spacecraft, carrier rocket and ground systems, according to Xinhua, citing the spokesman for the space agency.
One crew member will remain aboard the Shenzhou 9 as a precautionary measure while the others enter the orbital module, Xinhua said.
Beijing announced last December a five-year plan for space exploration that includes launching a space lab and collecting samples from the moon by 2016. The government has previously vowed to reach the moon and launch its own manned space station by 2020.
The plan, released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, shows how Beijing intends to draw on its military and civilian resources to reach the goals. The People’s Liberation Army drives China’s space program, and civilian institutions such as universities and laboratories are subject to the military’s efforts.
China had previously recruited two female astronauts in 2010. From the Washington Post, a female astronaut may be included in the crew:
Xinhua cited Niu Hongguang, deputy commander in chief of the manned space program, as saying the crew “might include female astronauts.”
The government said in 2010 that two female air force pilots had joined the astronaut program but has disclosed no other details.
Over the next few days, scientists will test the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, the Long March 2F rocket and ground systems, Xinhua said, citing the spokesman.
According to the BBC, this is the first manned spacecraft from China since 2008:
This will be China’s fourth manned space flight and its first since 2008.
It became only the third country to independently send a man into space in 2003.
China was previously turned away from the International Space Station, a much bigger project run by 16 nations, reportedly after objections from the United States.
Read more about China’s space program, via CDT.