China to Launch Next Manned Space Mission

A vendor assembles a model showing the Shenzhou 9 space craft docked with the Tiangong 1 space module with three astronauts, June 17, 2012.
China says it will launch its latest manned space mission later this year, as it moves forward with ambitious plans to build its own space station.

The official Xinhua news agency says the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft, carrying three astronauts, will be launched sometime between June and August.

The spacecraft will connect with an experimental space module known as Tiangong 1, which serves as a prototype for a full-fledged space station. The docking is considered an important initial step toward the building of a permanent space facility.

Three Chinese astronauts successfully linked up with the orbiting space module in June. China is only the third country to accomplish this.

China's space program has made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time, although it lags behind the U.S. and Russia in space technology and experience. In 2003, China sent its first astronaut into space. Five years later, it completed its first spacewalk.