ABC News’ Audrey Wozniak reports:
BEIJING – China will launch the country’s first-ever manned, space-docking mission in the next few weeks, according to the China National Space Administration.
The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft’s three-person crew will take off in mid-June and dock with the Tiangong 1 orbital module, according to the Chinese official news agency Xinhua. The launch will be China’s latest step toward achieving its goal to launch its own 60-ton manned space station by 2020.
In the days leading up to the launch, Shenzhou 9 and its carrier rocket, systems and crew are undergoing tests at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert. While the crew has yet to be publicly announced, the space agency has said that it might include female astronauts.
In orbit, Shenzhou 9 will dock with Tiangong 1, where crew members will perform scientific experiments. China has recently prioritized developing a national space program, announcing in December a five-year plan with such milestones as launching a space station and collecting samples from the moon by 2016. The launch will mark China’s fourth manned space flight, and first since 2008, when Chinese astronauts took their first spacewalk.
While China has invested heavily in its space program and was the third country to send humans into space, according to the New York Times, analysts say that the country is still years behind the United States in its space program.
Russians and Americans performed the first successful space dockings in the 1960s, and the last moon landing was the U.S. Apollo landing in 1972. China’s long-term goal of a manned space station in 2020 coincides with the retirement of the International Space Station, which denies China access because of objections from the United States.
ABC News’ Gloria Riviera contributed to this report.