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China to do first manned space docking

  |   Feb. 17, 2012 at 1:57 PM
BEIJING, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- The three astronauts on Beijing's next space mission will carry out China's first manned docking to a prototype space station, China's space agency said Friday.

The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft -- part of the Shenzhou manned spaceflight initiative that put China's first citizen in orbit in October 2003 -- will lift off for the Tiangong-1 experimental space station between June and August, the China National Space Administration said.

After docking, the astronauts will live and work in the space lab, conducting science experiments, said the agency, cited by the state Xinhua News Agency.

The Tiangong-1 lab was launched Sept. 29, 2011, followed by China's first unmanned space docking by the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft Nov. 3, 2011.

Tiangong-1 is expected to be "deorbited" next year, replaced by larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules, the space agency said.

China plans to build and launch a habitable space station made entirely in China around 2020, the space agency said.

The Chinese space station is planned as independent of the larger International Space Station. China is not an ISS partner, and no Chinese nationals have been aboard.

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