Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, waves next to her comrade Jing Haipeng as she comes out from the re-entry capsule of China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft in Siziwang Banner (Photo : Reuters)
In June 2013, China will launch the spacecraft Shenzhou-10 on a course for the orbiter Tiangong-1, according to Deputy Commander in-chief of the nation's space program, Niu Hongguang.
Xingua reports that vehicle will be crewed by three astronauts, two men and one woman, on a mission to test their equipments' space docking capabilities.
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"The selection for the crew will begin in early 2013," noted the Deputy Commander. "They will stay in space for 15 days, operating both automated and manual space docking with target orbiter Tiangong-1, conducting scientific experiments in the lab module and giving science lectures to spectators on the Earth."
Niu explains that "The success of this mission might enable China to construct a space lab and a space station," a goal that the program hopes to achieve by 2020.
He adds, "The space station is a state-level space experimental platform. We will make the best use of it to solve some problems concerning the country's scientific, technological development and people's livelihoods."
Taingong-1, which launched in September 2011, is said to be in "good condition...after more than a year of operation in space," although the spacecraft has a design life of two years.
BBC News states, "There has been discussion of China joining the International Space Station project, but this is considered unlikely given political tensions between Beijing and Washington."
The publication adds that China is the third country to "independently send a person into space, after the US and Russia."
China's space program was birthed in 1992, and sent their first astronaut into orbit in 2003.