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China to launch manned spacecraft in mid-June

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:27 AM EDT, Mon June 11, 2012
The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket are seen Saturday at the launch platform in northwest China's Gansu province.
The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket are seen Saturday at the launch platform in northwest China's Gansu province.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The spacecraft and its carrier rocket were moved to a launch platform Saturday
  • Female astronauts may be among the three-person crew, Xinhua reports
  • Final selection will be decided "on the very last condition," Xinhua cites official as saying
  • China hopes to build a space station, conduct a manned mission to the moon

(CNN) -- China aims to get its citizens one step closer to the moon this month.

The country's space program plans to dock its first manned spacecraft on its orbiting space laboratory in mid-June, China's state media reported Saturday. If all goes as planned, China will be the third nation after the United States and Russia to complete a manned docking.

The spacecraft, called the Shenzhou-9 and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, were moved to a launch platform in northwest China's Gansu province Saturday to allow scientists to conduct tests before the launch, according to Xinhua.

The Chinese news agency reported that female astronauts may be among the three-person crew to dock on the Tiangong-1 space lab module, which was launched into space in September.

In March, Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of China's manned space program, spoke about the possibility of including female astronauts and was quoted in Xinhua as saying the final selection will be decided "on the very last condition."

One of the crewmembers will not board the lab, as a precaution in case of an emergency should arise, a spokesperson for the space program said in February.

China has big aspirations for its space program with hopes to build a space station like the International Space Station and to conduct a manned mission to the moon.

A visitor at the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum looks at a spacesuit used by Chinese astronauts.
A visitor at the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum looks at a spacesuit used by Chinese astronauts.

China rockets forward in race to moon

Last November, the Tiangong-1successfully completed China's first space docking mission with an unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, according to Xinhua.

The efforts demonstrate "China's continued commitment to becoming a first-class space power with an independent space capability," Taylor Fravel, associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said this year.

"This is a very exclusive club."

On Thursday in Beijing, the China National Space Administration and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission signed a space cooperation plan through 2020, state-run China Daily reported. The agreement was signed, while Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was visiting for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit.

China's efforts come as the United States refocuses its space program toward deep space exploration, and private companies like SpaceX make strides toward the commercialization of spaceflight.

Last month SpaceX's unmanned Dragon capsule completed the first ever commercial mission to the International Space Station.

CNN's Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.

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