Two prospective female astronauts are busy preparing for the launch of China's manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft. However, it is not yet certain whether China will have its first space-bound female astronaut, a member of the China People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) said Monday at the annual session of the CPPCC, China's top political advisory body.
Qi Faren, the former chief designer of China's manned spacecraft system (file photo) [China.org.cn]
Speaking about the possible make-up of the Shenzhou-9 crew, Qi Faren, the former chief designer of China's manned spacecraft system, said: "There will be three crew members aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and two prospective female astronauts are currently undergoing training. I hope they [the prospective female astronauts] would be launched into space."
A spokesman for China's manned space program said last month that China will launch its manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft between June and August this year. The mission will also include a space rendezvous and docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module.
The space docking mission will be manually conducted by astronauts, and the Shenzhou-9's three crew members will board Tiangong-1 after the docking is completed. They will then conduct scientific experiments.
Qi stated that following rigorous testing, Tiangong-1 has been equipped so that living conditions are suitable for astronauts. He also said that prospective astronauts have learned how to carry out the rendezvous and dock missions under emergency conditions.
Qi added that Tiangong-1 would be fitted with a regeneration system, allowing water and air to be purified for recycling and reuse, thereby allowing astronauts to remain in space for longer. He confirmed that related technology was currently being tested.
Qi stated that when the technology is ready for practical application, China will be able to begin work on building a space station, which will mark a new era for China's manned space program.
China's manned space program consists of three steps: first, sending astronauts into space and ensuring their safe return; second, developing a space laboratory; and third, establishing a permanent manned space station. Qi explained that work is currently ongoing on the second step, which is a transitional and critical stage, where a number of key technologies are set to break through into practical use.
The first question which had to be settled during the launch of Shenzhou-7 in 2008 was that of the astronauts' extravehicular activity.
Commenting on the process, Qi said: "We had originally arranged three experiments –Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft– to solve the problems with this [rendezvous and docking] project. Since the unmanned Shenzhou-8 has successfully docked with the lab module Tiangong-1, we decided to go ahead with our plan to launch astronauts with Shenzhou-9 instead of Shenzhou-10."
Qi also expressed his strong support for China's possible future moon landing program, despite certain controversies.