We now have 50-50 certainty about the crew for the upcoming Shenzhou 9 mission. The vehicle will launch on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center this Saturday 16 June, and is expected to rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong-1 habitat module for a 10 day mission.
The main and backup crews were announced by China's media today, but which is which was not specified. Perhaps this has yet to be determined by a game of rock-paper-scissors. Either crew configuration will result in two "firsts" for China's space program: it will mark the first "second mission" by a taikonaut, as well as the first female taikonaut.
The two crews are:
Nie Haisheng (Commander), Zhang Xiaoguang, Wang Yaping
Jing Haipeng (Commander), Liu Wang, Liu Yang
Nie Haisheng flew on Shenzhou 6, and Jing Haipeng flew on Shenzhou 7. Wang Yaping and Liu Yang are the two female crew designates. Recent months have seen much speculation in Chinese media about which woman would be selected as the first woman taikonaut. Indeed, the same media have repeated rumors about possible drama or "competition" between Wang and Liu to be the first woman. I have serious doubts that this is true - such things simply are not done in China, which would be seen as brazen and un-Chinese. This is even more unlikely given that both women are members of the PLA Air Force where such overt self-promotion is even more frowned upon. Seems like hype to me.
Wang Yaping on left, Liu Yang on right.
Tony Quine at SpaceDaily has a good summary on what we know and don't know about the crews - after the jump.