Launch time set for Shenzhou 8

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The spokeswoman for China's manned space program, Wu Ping announced that the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft will be launched at 5:58 am on Tuesday morning.

Propellant has been injected into the upgraded Longmarch 2F carrier rocket, which will carry Shenzhou 8 into space.

Shenzhou 8 is expected to perform China's first rendezvous and docking experiment with Tiangong-1 in two days' time.

The spokeswoman says the Tiangong-1 prototype space lab has been operating normally and is ready for the docking experiment.

"Tests have shown that Tiangong-1 is stable in terms of its operation. All parameters indicate that it's ready to rendezvous and dock with Shenzhou 8. All equipment onboard Tiangong-1 is working well, and the space lab has completed a 180-degree turn-around to prepare itself for the docking procedure. The target orbiter has entered the orbit for the upcoming docking with Shenzhou 8."

According to Wu Ping, China plans to launch the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecrafts next year. Both of them are expected to dock with Tiangong-1.

At least one of the two missions will be manned.

"Crew members have been selected for the possible space docking mission in 2012. The crew, which includes two female astronauts, is now undergoing training in accordance with the mission's requirements. They are in good shape. Their training is focused on manual docking skills."

Before the manned flight, China has to test its space docking capabilities by launching an unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8.

The Shenzhou-8 craft is equipped with devices that will record real images and mechanical parameters during its flight, both of which are of vital importance to future manned missions.

In the meantime, Wu Ping says Chinese and German scientists will conduct 17 experiments on life science on Shenzhou-8, according to an agreement signed between the two sides three years ago.

"Among the 17 research programs, 10 will be conducted by China and six by Germany and the two sides will jointly carry out one program together. The cooperation is of great significance in promoting the study and development of space life science. This will be the first time for China's manned space program to carry out international cooperation in the field of space life science."

Wu goes on to say that with the development of China's space technology, the country will provide a larger platform for scientific experiments in space. China is also willing to cooperate with other countries in the field on an equal basis.

China has invited officials and experts from the European Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center to observe the launch of the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft.

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