The Shenzhou-X spacecraft will be launched at 5:38 pm on Tuesday, sending two men and a woman into space on a mission that will lay the foundation for building a space station, said a spokeswoman for China's manned space program.
The Long March 2F carrier rocket was fueled on Monday afternoon at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the remote Gobi desert, spokeswoman Wu Ping said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.
The three astronauts — Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping, a woman — will spend 15 days in space, two more days than last year's manned mission, Wu said.
Shenzhou-X, China's fifth manned spacecraft, will perform one automatic and one manual docking test with the orbiting space lab module Tiangong-1, she said.
"Before this mission, we conducted three automatic and one manual docking test in the Shenzhou-VIII and Shenzhou IX missions, but that is not enough," she said.
Space rendezvous and docking are crucial skills for building a space station, which China plans to accomplish in 2020.
"We need more docking experiments to further test the technology and accumulate experience for building the space station," she said.
This mission will also for the first time have the spacecraft fly around the Tiangong-1 space lab, launched in September 2011, the spokeswoman said.
Testing such precision mobility is necessary, said Bao Weimin, technological division chief of the spacecraft's builder, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, because the future space station will have multiple docking ports.The space program has to confirm that the spacecraft can dock with a space module from more than just one direction, Bao said previously.
The astronauts will also do repair and maintenance work on Tiangong-1, such as replacing the ceilings and some seal rings in the space module, which is nearing the end of its two-year designed lifespan, Wu said.
In another first for China, the astronauts will teach middle and elementary school students through a live video feed system while in orbit, Wu said.
Wang Yaping, the only woman of the three-astronaut crew, will be China's first teacher in space. Wang will talk about motion and surface tension of liquid in a microgravity environment, and she will help students better understand weight, mass and Newton's Laws. She will also interact with students and teachers in China, Wu said.
The lesson is geared toward making space more popular and inspiring enthusiasm for the universe and science, the spokeswoman said.
The time of the lesson will be decided according to the mission schedule, and technical conditions during the docking of the Shenzhou-X and Tiangong-1.
China launched its first manned space mission, the Shenzhou-V, in October 2003, making it the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve that feat. So far, seven men and one woman have gone into space in four manned Chinese missions.