China gears up for manned space docking this June

China will launch a manned spacecraft this month to accomplish its first manned space docking mission with the orbiting space lab module.

Updated: Jun 09, 2012, 13:13 PM IST

Beijing: China will launch a manned spacecraft this month to accomplish its first manned space docking mission with the orbiting space lab module, amid expectations that it could fly a woman astronaut.

The `Shenzhou-9` spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, were moved today to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted a spokesperson with the country`s manned space programme as saying.

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 spokesperson said.

The Shenzhou-9 will be launched into space "sometime in mid June" to perform China`s first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module.

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

China wants its lab to be a rival to Russia`s space lab currently being operated jointly with the United States. It is much smaller compared to the space lab.

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

Chances are that China could deploy a woman cosmonaut as it has already two female trainees for the space missions among a pool of seven selected for space missions.

Three astronauts were expected to be picked out of the seven who underwent training, an official said in March. If chosen they will be the first women astronauts from China. The seven candidates were picked from fighter pilots.

Another 45 astronauts - 15 woman and 30 men – were selected as backups. The two female trainees, whose identity will be released before the launch, were selected from 15 women whose prime requisition was that they should be married and given birth naturally, a Space International magazine under the China Academy of Space Technology said in March this year.

The women also must have no scars nor body odour, it said.

Pang Zhihao, deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine, said: "they even must not have decayed teeth as it might cause great trouble or a disaster in space."

Pang said a scar might open and start bleeding in space and the cramped conditions would intensify body odour.

Xu Xianrong, a professor with the General Hospital of the PLA Air Force, said the female astronauts must be married and have given birth naturally because that ensures their body and mental condition are mature enough.

The female astronauts tend to be more "keen and sensitive with better communication skills than their male counterparts," Pang said.

Women were also good at dealing with relationships with their space partners, which would be an important quality on a long missions, he said.

The former Soviet Union sent the world`s first female astronaut, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, into space in 1963.