China to Launch First Manned Space Docking Mission

Historic launch to take place this month.

China is gearing up for what will be its fourth manned space launch and possibly the country’s first launch to include a female astronaut, according to a recent announcement made by a government news agency over the weekend.

The mission is expected to include the launch of three astronauts into space aboard the Shenzhou 9, where they will then attempt to dock for the first time with the Tiangong 1, a laboratory module launched into orbit by a Long March 2F rocket last September. Less than two months later, the unmanned Shenzhou 8 successfully rendezvoused and docked with the module on two separate occasions.

In anticipation of the upcoming mission, slated to takeoff mid-June, space program officials have transported the Shenzhou 9 to a launch pad in the northwestern region of the country, where it and its carrier rocket will undergo a series of tests before the launch.

The mission represents the latest step forward in China’s space program, which in 2003 established China as only the third country to send a man into space independently. Since then, the country has moved closer toward its ultimate goal of building a 60-ton manned space station by 2020.

The space station initiative comes after China was denied participation in and access to the International Space Station, which currently includes more than a dozen international partners, spans the size of a football field and is expected to weigh more than 400 tons by the year’s end.