Beijing: China's first unmanned space module, the Tiangong-1, is now capable of accommodating astronauts, and it may be possible for China to carry out its first manned space docking mission this year, a top space engineer said Thursday.
China will launch its manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft between June and August this year, and conduct a space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, Qi Faren, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body, told Xinhua.
Qi is the former chief designer of the Shenzhou spaceships series.
Chinese space engineers had previously planned to let one more unmanned docking by Shenzhou-9. The Shenzhou-10 spacecraft was scheduled to make the first manned space docking mission.
Qi said the previous unmanned docking between the Shenzhou-8 and the Tiangong-1 was "much better than what we had anticipated".
"Therefore, we decided to put forward the manned docking mission with the Shenzhou-9 ahead of schedule," he said.
He said tests showed that the environment and food reserves inside the Tiangong-I space lab module would be able to sustain one astronaut living and working there for 60 days, or two astronauts for 30 days.
Three astronauts have been picked for the manned docking, and they have already completed training.
He said one of the three Shenzhou-9 crew members will not board the Tiangong-1 but remain inside the spacecraft as a precautionary measure in case of emergency.
The 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1 is orbiting 400 km above the Earth's surface. Launched in September last year, the Tiangong-1 completed the country's first-ever space docking with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in November.
First Published: Thursday, March 01, 2012, 18:06