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China gears up for manned space docking this month

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.

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