JIUQUAN, China - China will send its first woman into space along with two other astronauts on Saturday to work on a temporary space station for about a week, in a major step toward becoming only the third nation to set up a permanent base in orbit.
Liu Yang, a 34-year-old Air Force pilot, and two male colleagues will take off Saturday on the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, which will dock with the bus-sized Tiangong 1 module orbiting at 213 miles above Earth.
Two astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems while the third will stay in the capsule to deal with any emergency. The mission will last more than 10 days before the astronauts return to Earth in the capsule, landing in Western China with the aid of parachutes.
The rocket began fueling Friday at the Jiugquan Satellite Launch Center near the Gobi desert in northern China.
Joining Liu, a major, is veteran astronaut and mission commander Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang, both Air Force senior colonels.
Success in docking - and in living and working aboard the Tiangong 1 - would pave the way for more ambitious projects, including the creation of a permanent space station and missions to the moon.
China hopes to join the United States and Russia as the only nations to have sent independently maintained space stations into orbit.