China Set for Historic Mission

China will launch the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft tomorrow morning at 6:37 a.m. EDT with a crew of three taikonauts (astronauts) to the Tiangong 1 spacelab which was launched at the end of September last year.

The crew includes Jing Haipeng, a veteran of two other spaceflights and who will command the mission, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, the first female Chinese taikonaut. It will also marks the first time a manned crew docks with the Tiangong 1, China's small spacelab.

The launch will take place at the Jiuquan Space Launch Center in western China.

china-space-station.jpgOnce Shenzhou 9 reaches the proximity of the spacelab the crew will perform a manual docking, though future missions will have automated dockings. It is also believed that the Shenzhou spacecraft is designed with a common docking system that would allow it to dock with the International Space Station in the future should China be invited to visit, which it hopes to do.

Among the activities the crew will undertake while docked with at the spacelab is medical research. Shenzhou 9 is also carrying live butterflies along with butterfly eggs and pupae.

China is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its manned space program this year. The Shenzhou 9 is the 10th flight in the program and the fourth manned spaceflight. Six of the Shenzhou flights have been unmanned. China hopes to have a space station built by 2020.

Press briefing with China taikonauts.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.