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China plans to launch Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in 2011

CHINA plans to launch the Shenzhou-8 and Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in 2011, a former chief designer of China's manned-space project said in Beijing today.

Wang Yongzhi, who is also a member the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body, made the remarks on the sidelines of the annual advisory session.

China plans to launch an unmanned space module into orbit as early as the end of 2010, which is expected to dock with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 in 2011.

If the space module and spacecraft dock successfully, the country will launch in the same year the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with taikonauts aboard, Wang said.

Taikonauts for Shenzhou-9 will be chosen from the first 14 taikonauts of the country, which six taikonauts who had entered space before.

China will soon start selecting a new batch of taikonauts, which may include the country's first female taikonaut. However, they need a long time of training and will not catch up with the Shenzhou-9 mission.

China sent its first astronaut Yang Liwei into space in 2003 riding self-developed spacecraft Shenzhou-5. It was followed by a two-man mission that carried Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng in 2005.

The trio of Shenzhou-7 taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng orbited the earth for three days last year.

Zhai became the first Chinese to "set foot" on outer space on Sept. 27, 2008. His spacewalk lasted about 20 minutes and was believed to help pave the way for the country's next space mission-- the launch of a space lab or space station.


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