BEIJING, March 7 (Xinhua) -- China plans to launch the Shenzhou-8 and Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in 2011, a former chief designer of China's manned-space project said here Saturday.
Wang Yongzhi, who is also a member the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made the remarks on the sidelines of the annual session the top political advisory body.
China plans to launch an unmanned space module into orbit as early as the end of 2010, which is expected to dock with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 in 2011. It would be the country's first space docking.
If the space module and spacecraft dock successfully, the country will launch in the same year the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with taikonauts aboard, Wang said.
Liang Xiaohong, vice president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told Xinhua Saturday the module and two spacecraft will be carried by Long March 2F rockets and launched between the fourth quarter of 2010 and October, 2011.
Shenzhou-9 will also dock with the module, Liang said.
"The two dockings, one unmanned and one manned, will lay a solid foundation for the setup of a space station," Liang said.
Taikonauts for Shenzhou-9 will be chosen from the first 14 taikonauts of the country, which include six taikonauts who had entered space before, Wang said.
China will soon start selecting a new batch of taikonauts, which may include the country's first female taikonaut. However, they need a long time of training and will not catch up with the Shenzhou-9 mission, he added.
China sent its first astronaut Yang Liwei into space in 2003 riding self-developed spacecraft Shenzhou-5. It was followed by a two-man mission that carried Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng in 2005.
The trio of Shenzhou-7 taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng orbited the earth for three days last year.
Zhai became the first Chinese to "set foot" on outer space on Sept. 27, 2008. His spacewalk lasted about 20 minutes and was believed to help pave the way for the country's next space mission-- the launch of a space lab or space station.