China will be launching the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft later this month to perform the country's first manned space docking mission. The spacecraft, along with three astronauts and the Long March 2-F carrier rocket, is set to rendezvous with the Tiangong-1 space lab module, which lowered to docking orbit earlier this month. The unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft docked with the Tiangong-1 last Novemenber.

The completion of the mission will be a momentous occasion for China, as chief designer of the manned space program Zhou Jianping explains:

It means China's spacecraft will become a genuine manned shuttle tool between space and Earth. It can send human beings to space stations or space labs. This will be a significant step in China's manned space flight history.

The Shenzhou-9 and the Long March 2-F were delivered to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in April, where they have been undergoing final testing in preparation for launch.