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China To Launch Manned Mission To Its Own Space Station In June

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Tiangong-1 takes off from China in September 2011
Tiangong-1 takes off from China in September 2011

China will launch a manned spacecraft before docking with its own space station, the country's state media agency has announced.

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft will launch on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China in June.

Three people will be on board, national news agency Xinhau said, with at least one expected to be female.

Two female 'taikonauts' were chosen for the program in 2010. Named Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, "because of their excellent flight skills and psychological quality".

The crew will then dock manually with the Tiangong-1 module ("Heavenly Place") which is in orbit around the Earth.

Tiangong-1 was launched in September but no astronauts have so far stepped foot inside it while in space.

In 2003 China became only the third nation to put a citizen into space on its own, after Russia and America.

China's eventual goal is to build a space station in which astronauts can live for months at a time by 2020 - the same year that the International Space Station is decommissioned.

China has also announced plans for a manned mission to the Moon, which could take place as soon as 2025.