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China selects women astronauts for future space missions

BEIJING (PTI): China plans to launch its third unmanned mission to the moon in 2013, even as it selected two women astronauts for the first time to take part in its future space lab.

The third unmanned probe to the moon 'Chang'e-3' will be launched around 2013 and is expected to complete the three-phase moon mission by 2017.

"The Chang'e-3 mission will include an unmanned soft landing on the moon and the release of a moon rover to prospect the surface and interior of the moon," Ye Peijian chief designer Chang'e-1, country's first moon probe was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

Ye said the Chang'e-3 mission has made "good progress" in its prototype development stage and he believes the mission would be carried out as scheduled after overcoming a variety of difficulties.

Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 are part of the second phase of the country's lunar exploration programme. Chang'e-2 is designed to test key soft landing technologies for the Chang'e-3 and provide high-resolution photo images of the landing area.

China also selected its second batch of astronauts, including five men and two women. This is for the first time women have joined the country's space mission.

"The two women astronauts, both aero-transport pilots from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, might take part in manned docking of China's future space lab, Zhang Jianqi, former deputy commander of the country's manned space programme said.

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