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China’s shuttle may have woman aboard

world Updated: Jun 09, 2012 22:40 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

A Chinese woman astronaut could be on board China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft when it blasts off to space within a week’s time, a first for the country’s space program that plans to have a permanent space station by 2020.

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket have already been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The launch -- China's first manned space mission since September 2008 -- would occur "sometime in mid June", it said.

Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the country's manned space program, said earlier that the three-person crew on Shenzhou-9 might include female astronauts, but the final selection would be decided “on the very last condition.”

In 2003, China became the third country to send humans into space after Russia and the US. It is also looking into sending astronauts to the moon.

India, which has its own ambitious space programme, is yet to send a manned craft to the space though Indian-origin astronauts have been in space for other countries.

“By 10.30 am on Saturday, the spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, had been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, a spokesperson with the country's manned space program said,” Xinhua reported.

The official news agency added that 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.

The target module Tiangong-1, which blasted off on Sept. 29, 2011, went into long-term operation in space awaiting docking attempts of Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 after completing China's first space docking mission with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in early November.

The Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, was lowered to docking orbit in early June and is orbiting normally, the spokesperson said.

The final preparations are running smoothly, and the selected astronauts have completed their training and are in sound physical and mental conditions, Xinhua reported.