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China is considering sending female astronauts into space during its space docking missions next year, a chief designer for the astronaut program said Monday.
Two female astronauts have been selected for possible flights when spacecraft Shenzhou-9 and -10 are scheduled to dock with space lab module Tiangong-1 in 2012, said Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Center of China (ACC).
"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 said in an exclusive interview ahead of the launch of Shenzhou-8 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
"Space exploration activities would be incomplete without the participation of female astronauts," Chen said.
Chen did not disclose the names of the two female astronauts, but said both of them are married and around 30 years old.
China's manned space program spokeswoman Wu Ping said at a Monday press briefing that at least one of the two missions will be manned.
Wu said the crew members of nine have already been selected for the two space docking missions in 2012 and are being trained with manual docking skills.
Chen said the seven male crew members are from the country's first batch of 14 astronauts, which includes Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut into space in 2003, and Zhai Zhigang, the first to conduct an extra vehicular activity (EVA) in 2008.
The two female astronauts, both airfreighter pilots before their enrollment, are from the second batch of astronauts from late 2009 and early 2010, according to Chen.
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