According to Space.com, China has launched its latest crewed space mission, the Shenzhou 9 , with a crew of two male and one female taikonauts for a rendezvous and docking with the Tiangong 1 module in low Earth orbit.
Launch of Shenzhou 9
Shenzhou 9 was launched on top of a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's northern Gansu province at 6:37 a.m. EDT. By all accounts, it was a picture perfect launch.
Shenzhou 9 contains the first female taikonaut
Major Liu Yang, a Chinese Air Force pilot, is part of the crew of the Shenzhou 9 and is China's first female taikonaut. According to Space Daily, Liu as a child wanted to be =a bus conductor or a lawyer. But a visit by the People's Liberation Army to her school in Henan Province set her on a path to becoming a military pilot and a taikonaut. She joined the Chinese Air Force in 1997 and has racked up 1,680 hours of flight time. She was first recruited to the Chinese space program in May 2010. She is married and has no children.
Other members of the Shenzhou 9 crew
Space.com mentions the other members of the Shenzhou 9 crew are Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. Jing previously flew on the Shenzhou 7 mission. Both, like Liu Yang, are military pilots.
Rendezvous and docking with Tiangong 1
If all goes well, Shenzhou 9 will rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong 1 module, a prototype for an eventual Chinese space station, that has been in orbit since September. The first docking will be on automatic pilot. Then the Shenzhou 9 will separate and the crew will attempt a manual docking. If they succeed, the crew of the Shenzhou 9 will have accomplished a feat that has only been undertaken by the U.S. and Russia.
Shenzhou 9 next step in ambitious Chinese space plan
The flight of the Shenzhou 9 in the next step in an ambitious Chinese space plan that includes the construction of a multimodule space station by the end of the current decade. Ultimately, the Chinese would like to land taikonauts on the moon, a feat last accomplished by the U.S. in 1972, with a view toward scientific exploration and economic development.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.