The unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert, on its way to docking with the Tiangong-1 space module in two days’ time.
According to China Daily, the country’s space program’s efforts are all leading up to having a fully operational space station by 2020:
A Long March II-F carrier rocket with Shenzhou VIII atop was set to blast off at 5:58:07 am Tuesday morning, program spokeswoman Wu Ping told a news conference at the launch center.
Without complications, the spacecraft will rendezvous and dock in two days with the unmanned Tiangong-1 space module, which was launched on Sept 29, Wu said.
After five orbital maneuvers, Shenzhou VIII will enter an orbit below Tiangong-1, which is currently circling 343 km above the Earth’s surface.
The launching of Shenzhou VIII is merely one of the preliminary steps being taken before manned missions to Tiangong-1 take place next year, and with female taikonauts going into space for the first time (‘taikonaut’ refers to ‘taikong’/太空, which is the Chinese term for space, rather than the Japanese word for drum).
If the reports are accurate that the crew for next year’s manned mission will include seven men and two women, then Chinese researchers will have a golden opportunity to see how China’s gender ratio imbalance will play out…IN SPACE!!