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China Finishes Construction of Space Station Module

China says it has finished construction on the first module of a permanent space station, and is testing its systems before launching it next year.

Officials said Tuesday the Tiangong-1 module will need to pass a series of electrical, mechanical and thermal performance tests before being sent into orbit in 2011. An unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, will be launched later in the year and will rendezvous with the Tiangong-1 for China's first space docking.

If the docking is successful, later missions are planned with live astronauts who will live and work at the space station. China says astronauts already are being trained for the manned mission, which may include the country's first female astronaut.

China is one of only three countries, along with the United States and Russia, that have launched their own astronauts into space. Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese astronaut to conduct a spacewalk in September 2008.

India last year announced plans to launch its own astronauts by 2015.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.