China has announced it will carry out a manned space flight at some point in the middle of June.
A rocket carrying the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft has been moved to a launch pad in the north-west of the country.
According to state news agency Xinhua, it will carry three astronauts – possibly including a woman – to the Tiangong 1 space station module.
This will be China’s fourth manned space flight and its first since 2008.
It became only the third country to independently send a man into space in 2003.
Last year, China completed a complicated space docking manoeuvre when an unmanned craft docked with the Tiangong 1, or “Heavenly Body”, by remote control.
The astronauts onboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft will also dock with the Tiangong 1 – an experimental module currently orbiting Earth – and carry out scientific experiments on board.
Xinhua reported that Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space programme, said the crew “might include female astronauts”.
The mission is part of China’s programme to develop a full orbiting space station.
Beijing is planning to complete the 60-tonne manned space station by 2020.
China was previously turned away from the International Space Station, a much bigger project run by 16 nations, reportedly after objections from the United States.
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