As China prepares to construct its own space laboratory next year, a crew of three Chinese astronauts is preparing to blast off in the Shenzhou X spacecraft for a preliminary mission this month. From the South China Morning Post:
China Central Television reported yesterday that the spacecraft, mounted on top of a Long March 2F rocket, had been wheeled to a launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Inner Mongolia, with the mission scheduled for the middle of this month.
The crew will dock the Shenzhou X with the Tiangong I space module and live there for more than a week, testing equipment and technology crucial to space station construction.
The entire mission will last about 15 days, or two days longer than the maiden flight to Tiangong I last year.
If the mission is a success, China will press ahead with the construction of a two-module space laboratory next year that could increase the amount of time that astronauts can stay in space from days to weeks. [Source]
Shenzhou X will succeed Shenzhou 9, which last year completed China’s first manned docking mission since 2008. Astronaut Wang Yaping will become China’s second woman in space, according to a China Daily report, after colleague Liu Yang made history aboard Shenzhou 9:
“Wang is highly likely to be sent to space if she is in good condition,” said Zhang Jianqi, director general of the China Space Foundation and former deputy commander of the country’s manned space program, confirming domestic media reports.
Wang and Liu were both selected as candidates for the Shenzhou IX mission. Wang then became Liu’s backup.
Wang, a native of Yantai, East China’s Shandong province, was selected as a pilot at the age of 17. She participated in the rescue work after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 and piloted the aircraft for the artificial rain mission during the Beijing Olympic Games. [Source]