by Tony Quine for SpaceDaily
Isle of Man UK (SPX) Jun 12, 2012
Chinese authorities have now confirmed that the country's first manned space docking mission will be launched on the evening of 16th June, and that it will carry two men and China's first female space traveller into orbit. The first photographs have been released of the two crews who are being readied for the mission undertaking flag raising and tree planting ceremonies, at the Jiaquan Satellite Launch Centre, during Sunday.
The two crews are:-
Nie Haisheng (Commander), Zhang Xiaoguang, Wang Yaping
Jing Haipeng (Commander), Liu Wang, Liu Yang
There is conflicting opinion in the Chinese media, and among bloggers and forum participants, as to which is the prime crew.
Throughout the build up to this mission, the Chinese authorities have consistently commented that the flight crew would not be determined until the last possible moment. This presumably means that no official announcement will be made until the Flight Readiness Review (or Chinese equivalent) is completed in the next 2 to 3 days.
There is a clear pattern in the crew structures. Each commander is a veteran on one of China's previous three missions. Indeed, Nie Haisheng has been involved in every mission, having been a back-up on both Shenzhou 5 and 7, and flying on Shenzhou 6, in 2005.
Jing Haipeng was a crew member on China's last manned flight, Shenzhou 7, in 2008. If his crew flies, it will be a rare example of an astronaut, from any manned programme, flying consecutive missions.
The second man in each team, designated 'Operator' on previous multi-manned missions, are both being assigned to a mission for the first time, after a 14 year wait. Liu Wang, 42, is known to be the youngest member of China's 1998 taikonaut cohort, whilst nothing is known of Zhang Xiaoguang.
As widely anticipated, the two female candidates have been split across the two teams. Their names have been circulating on both the Chinese and English language websites for many months.
Wang Yaping had been the Chinese media favourite to make the flight for many months, but some sources have been championing Liu's cause recently, so it is impossible to make any evidence based judgement, on who is more likely to make the flight. Wang and Liu are both pilots in the People's Liberation Army Air Force.
Assuming that Shenzhou 9 launches successfully on Saturday, a manual docking with Tiangong 1 will follow after two days, ahead of a ten day stay onboard the orbiting module.
Tony Quine is a long time observer of the Russian and Chinese manned space programmes and a regular author and contributor to both online and published media.
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com
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