Chinese female astronaut to join docking mission

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket are seen Saturday at the launch platform in northwest China's Gansu province.

Story highlights

  • Xinhua identifies female astronauts who could be on crew
  • Launch is planned for mid-June
  • China aims to complete manned space docking, joining Russia, United States
  • China aspires to build space station, conduct manned mission to the moon

China's historic spacecraft docking mission this month will involve a female astronaut, state-run Xinhua reported.

Either Liu Yang or Wang Yaping -- selected among China's first batch of women astronauts -- will be among the three-person crew to launch aboard the Shenzhou-9, according to Xinhua.

If all goes well with the launch, which is planned for mid-June, the Shenzhou-9 will dock with China's orbiting space laboratory, making the nation the third after the United States and Russia to complete a manned space docking.

As a precaution in case of an emergency, one of the crewmembers will not board the lab, 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.

China rockets forward in race to moon

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

    The Tiangong-1 space lab module was launched into space in September, and two months later it successfully completed China's first space docking 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.

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

    "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.