China wants to cooperate in space
Beijing has reiterated its long-standing offer to cooperate with the United States in space.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, China's current orbital activities are an integral part of the "peaceful exploration and utilization of space" by the human race.
As such, says Weimin, Beijing is more than willing to collaborate with other countries on manned spaceflight, as well as other aerospace initiatives.
China's space program took a great leap forward this past September when it successfully lofted the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) module into orbit.
The module is equipped with advanced cameras which are currently snapping hyperspectral images of China's farmlands to detect heavy metal pollution, pesticide residue and plant disease. Scientists on the ground are also conducting experiments on photonic crystals in the low-gravity environment offered by the Tiangong-1.
The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 measures 10.4 meters in length and 3.35 meters in diameter - providing a total of 15 cubic meters for two to three astronauts. China's space agency is currently preparing to transport astronauts to the Tiangong-1 for the country's first manned space docking.
According to Xinhua, the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft remains on track to dock with the orbital module "sometime in mid-June." One crew member will remain aboard the Shenzhou 9 as a precautionary measure - while the others enter the Tiangong-1. However, the crew roster has yet to be finalized, with Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the country's manned space program, stating that the three-person crew may include female astronauts.
China has recently accelerated its space-related aspirations, as it plans to collect samples from the moon by 2016 and launch its own manned space station by 2020. The unmanned Tiangong-1 is expected to help Beijing prepare for the eventual construction of its space station, which Chinese officials envision as an "international platform" for research and exploration.