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China Prepares for First Manual Space Docking Mission

  • Stephanie Ho

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (C), Liu Wang (R) and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, wave to the media during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northwest China's Gansu province, June 15, 2012.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (C), Liu Wang (R) and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, wave to the media during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northwest China's Gansu province, June 15, 2012.

BEIJING - China is preparing to launch three astronauts into space, as part of efforts to become the third country to have a permanent base orbiting the Earth. The astronauts, including China's first female in space, will live and work on a space station for more than a week.

Workers at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's western Gansu province put the finishing touches on the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft, which is due to launch Saturday.

The program's spokeswoman, Wu Ping, told reporters Friday the rocket is being fueled as one final step before the launch.

She said rehearsals of the Shenzhou-9's main systems have been completed, the crew is in good condition and all preparations have been made. The spokeswoman explained that the Shenzhou-9 will separate from its rocket and automatically dock with Tiangong-1, a space module that is orbiting more than 300 kilometers above the earth.

She said when the two vehicles connect, the astronauts will enter the experimental Tiangong-1 vehicle and live there for nearly two weeks to carry out scientific and technological experiments. The crew also will work to dock the vessels manually.

The crew includes veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng, who will be the mission's commander, and Liu Wang. The astronaut receiving the most attention, though, is Liu Yang, an air force pilot who expressed gratitude for being the first Chinese woman astronaut. Liu also thanked the People's Liberation Army for supporting China's space exploration business. She added that the country will work together to gain more pride for China.

Program spokeswoman Wu Ping called Liu's participation a landmark event. She said having a Chinese female astronaut fly for the first time represents not only a technical breakthrough, but is also very socially significant in China, where boys are traditionally valued above girls.

This is a big week for Chinese explorers. China's manned deep-sea submersible, the Jiaolong, has finished the first in a series of six dives aimed at reaching the country's deepest-ever manned dive of 7,000 meters. The first dive surpassed 6,000 meters in the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest places on the earth.

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