Shenzhou-9, China’s latest spacecraft blasted off Saturday night from a western China desert. The spacecraft is carrying a crew of three, which includes the first female astronaut in the country. The astronauts will try to complete the first manned space docking for China during the mission. This is an important step for the country in its ambitious plan to have a space station before 2020.
The launch was powered by the Long March 2F rocket and was telecast live on state TV from the Jiuguan Launch site located in the Gobi Desert. The crew will spend 20 days orbiting and will dock with Taingong-1, the space lab module. The module is a mini space station that was launched by China in September of last year. The crew will live and conduct experiments while in the module.
Billions have been spent by China over the past decade to build an advanced space program in order to compete against Russia and the United States. China wants to eventually put astronauts on the moon, perhaps before the end of 2016.
In 2003, China sent its first astronaut into space and in 2008, a spacewalk was performed for the first time by Chinese astronauts. A manned docking by the space program in China would be considered a huge milestone and the program’s third big step in developing its modern space program.
In November, China completed a remote control docking with the Shenzhou-8 capsule, an event that received national television attention and was watched by Wen Jiabao the Prime Minister from Beijing’s space control center.