China Space Program Set to Send First Female Into Orbit

( [email protected] ) Nov 01, 2011 07:16 AM EDT

As part of China's mission to build its own space station by 2020, China may send its first female astronaut into orbit, according to the official news agency for Xinhua.

Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for the country's space program, stated that a rocket will lift the unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft into orbit from northwest China on Tuesday at 5.58 a.m. local time.

"Although Shenzhou-8 is unmanned, we equipped the spacecraft with devices recording real images and mechanical parameters during its flight, both of which are vital to future manned missions," Ping said.

This move by China will prepare the spacecraft for its docking operation alongside the Tiangong 1, an experimental module previously launched on Sept. 29.

China's experimental docking station is set to house several astronauts that can live in space for several months. This all depends on the success of the Shenzhou VIII operation.

Should the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft prove to be a success, China will then send two more into space for further experiments.

Ping detailed China's 2012 space plans: "Next year, we will carry out the Shenzhou 9 and 10 flight missions, and they will also carry out rendezvous and docking tests with the Tiangong 1."

One of those spacecraft's will be manned.

At the moment, two female astronauts are being trained for that mission. If any one of those women gets to operate one of the space modules, she will go down as the first female to be sent into space by China.

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program, stated that mastering docking technology "will make it possible for China to carry out space exploration of larger scale."

Still, space collisions between the crafts sent into orbit could be costly if they occur. "It is quite difficult and risky to join together two vehicles traveling at high speeds in orbit, with a margin of error of no more than 20 centimeters," said Ping.

China is trying to catch up to the space travel precedents set by America and Russia, which were achieved in the 1960's.