China Launches Shenzhou VIII to Dock with Space Station

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

The unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft blasted off aboard a Long March 2F rocket early Tuesday on a mission to dock with China’s Tiangong-1 space station. The mission will test docking technology that will be used for two follow-up missions that will include crews beginning next year.

Measuring 10.4 meters in length and weighing in at 8.5 metric tons, Tiangong-1 is a mini-space station that is roughly half the size of the early Salyut space stations launched by the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. It is designed to test technologies required for the establishment of a permanent space station by 2020.

The Xinhua news agency reports that two female are being considered for the Shenzhou IX and X flights set to visit the station beginning next year. said C

“We must assess both male and female astronauts to verify if human beings can live in space as there are huge differences between men and women in spite of their common generalities,” Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Center of China (ACC), told the news agency. “Space exploration activities would be incomplete without the participation of female astronauts.”