The steady upward march of China’s space program continued this weekend with the move of a Long March 2F rocket to the launch pad (left) for preparation for the dispatch of a manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft to dock with China’s orbiting space station module, Tiangong-1, later this month. The unmanned Shenzhou-8 docked with Tiangong-1 last November, China’s first space docking.
There is speculation that the three-person team of astronauts aboard Shenzhou-9 will include what would be China’s woman in space. Two female PLA-Air Force pilots joined the space program in 2010. Both were included in the initial roster of seven astronauts for the Shenzhou-9 flight that was picked in March. The final flight crew and back-ups are in training, but has not yet been announced. Unnamed officials have been quoted as saying it includes a woman. (Update: state media confirm that one of the two will be in the flight crew.)
Docking of spacecraft is a critical skill to master as China races to catch-up with the other space powers. Amid the fanfare about the progress of China’s space program, it is worth recalling that the U.S., for example, first docked spacecraft nearly half a century ago, in 1966.