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Space program moves forward with launches

CHINA plans to launch the Shenzhou VIII and Shenzhou IX spacecraft in 2011, a former chief designer of the country's manned-space project said on Saturday.

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

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 VIII in 2011. It would be the country's first space docking.

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

Liang Xiaohong, vice president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said on Saturday the module and two spacecraft will be carried by Long March 2F rockets and launched between the fourth quarter of 2010 and October 2011. Shenzhou IX will also dock with the module, Liang said.

"The two dockings, one unmanned and one manned, will lay a solid foundation for the setup of a space station," Liang said.

The Shenzhou IX taikonauts will be chosen from the country's first 14, including the six taikonauts who have already been in space, Wang said. Selection will begin soon on the next batch of taikonauts, which may include the country's first female astronaut.

China sent its first taikonaut Yang Liwei into space aboard Shenzhou V.


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