China's Shenzhou 9 Launches into History

This morning at 6:37 a.m. EDT a Chinese Long March rocket carrying the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft succesfully launched a crew of three taikonauts into space for a rendezvous with the Tiangong 1 mini-spacelab already in orbit.

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. The launch was from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center in western China.

Once 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.

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