Last month we watched as Space Exploration Technologies, a privately owned company, launched a space shuttle into space. About a week later, we learned that the SpaceX shuttle safely and successfully returned to Earth. Today we learn that China successfully launched a space shuttle of their own into space, carrying with it that country’s first female astronaut. Click below to see photos of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft as it launched earlier today on the Long March 2F rocket and get your first look at the Chinese astronauts who rocketed into space — Liu Yang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang.
China sent a crew of three, including the country’s first female astronaut, into space on Saturday to carry out its first manned docking mission, an important step in an ambitious plan to build a Chinese space station by 2020. The successful launching of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, powered by a Long March 2F rocket, was shown live on state television from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in western China. The crew is expected to spend up to 20 days in space and dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, a kind of miniature space station, which China launched in September 2011. The crew will conduct experiments and live for a time in the space module. China has spent billions of dollars in the past decade to build a space program to compete with the United States and Russia and plans to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon, perhaps by 2016. The country sent its first man into space in 2003, and a Chinese astronaut did a spacewalk in 2008. The manned docking would be considered a milestone for China’s space program and the third major step in developing a space program. China completed a docking by remote control in November when the Shenzhou-8 capsule coupled with the Tiangong-1 orbital module, an event that was broadcast live on national television and observed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao from the control center in Beijing. The launching put China’s first woman into space, a 33-year-old air force pilot named Liu Yang. “This is an important leap forward for China’s manned space program,” said Wu Bangguo, the nation’s top legislator, speaking to the three astronauts before they took flight. The mission is China’s first manned spaceflight since September 2008. The goal, analysts say, is to dock with the space lab as practice for future dockings with the space station that China plans to build. One crew member will remain aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft as a precautionary measure while the others enter the Tiangong 1 orbital module. While the mission itself is not unusual, analysts said it extended China’s remarkable pace in developing its space program. “It is the speed with which China is ticking off these boxes in developing their program that is interesting,” said Jeff Kueter, the president of the George C. Marshall Institute, which focuses on how science is used in making public policy … The Soviet Union sent the first woman into space in 1963. The first American woman in space was Sally Ride, in 1983. According to China’s state-run news media, the selection process determined that China’s first woman in space should be married, preferably with a child. Beijing announced a five-year plan for space exploration in December that included a space lab and the collection of samples from the moon by 2016. The government has previously vowed to reach the moon and establish a manned space station by 2020. The plan, released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, shows how Beijing intends to draw on its military and civilian resources to reach the goals. The People’s Liberation Army drives China’s space program, and civilian institutions like universities and laboratories are subject to the military’s efforts. China is considered a leader in the business of launching satellites, but analysts say it is still years behind the United States.
Wow! This is all terribly exciting. Altho the US government has decided to cease our space program for the foreseeable future, it’s clear that other folks are still intent on boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before. I am really excited by the SpaceX program but I’m also very excited by the Chinese space program as well. It sounds to me like they have a very auspicious plan for space exploration. As long as they proceed safely, I am really encouraged that they might advance human knowledge of space significantly. Even if they are unable to surpass the achievements of our space program, I am of the mind that there can never be too much space exploration. I would LOVE to see a moon base become a reality in my lifetime. Honestly, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Chinese government was the one to make that possibility a reality. I wish this group of Chinese astronauts all the luck in the world. They are not only braving space for their country, they are also doing so for all of mankind.