by Staff Writers
By Morris Jones for SpaceDaily
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jun 14, 2012 The launch of the first crew to China's Tiangong 1 space laboratory is a major step forward for China's astronaut program. It's attracted the attention of the world's media, who have been carefully following progress in the mission. Even newspapers that don't normally cover spaceflight have been inspired to report on the flight.
There are plenty of news "hooks" to attract journalists. Technically, this is more complex than any previous Chinese space mission. A three-person crew will fly in space for almost two weeks, and will perform rendezvous and docking along with the occupation of another spacecraft. Aerospace journalists are feeding well on this. For the general media, there's a more important hook. The launch of the Shenzhou 9 carrier spacecraft to Tiangong also features China's first female astronaut.
We're pretty used to the Chinese pattern of disclosure by now. Things are kept strongly under wraps until the final days, and sometimes the final hours. We have known the basic objectives of the mission for a long time, but the launch date was not confirmed until less than a week before liftoff, and the exact identities of the crew are still not known. This is no different from our previous experience with Chinese space missions.
China's state-run media have continued to report on progress with the mission and the setup of the spacecraft. We have also seen nice pictures of the rollout of the Long March 2F rocket and rehearsals for the launch.
But there seems to be a slight change in the Chinese media. The special Web sites that are normally set up to deal with major Chinese space launches seem to be absent.
Special sites have been a tradition of all previous astronaut launches and important uncrewed space launches such as the Chang'e-1 lunar orbiter. State-run media normally place large banners on their home pages to direct you to the special sites. In addition, coverage of the missions is still provided within the mainstream news.
These sites are normally established well before the launches, to help build up anticipation.
At the time of writing, less than four days before the scheduled time of launch, we have yet to see them. It is possible that special sites could be constructed soon, but it is unusual for them to be absent this close to a launch.
Why has there been a media tonedown for the first crew to Tiangong? China presumably wants to gain as much recognition and support for the launch as it can. The space mission is not only good news. It's uplifting and inspirational. It's also another necessary boost for women in aerospace. The mission also has the potential to boost the credibility of China's government on a local and an international scale.
Perhaps the classical style of special sections has had its day. There has been a social media revolution
across the world in recent years. Facebook is inaccessible in China, but the Chinese have their own home-grown equivalents. Chatter about the mission on Chinese social media is intense. Perhaps China's editors and webmasters are content for their own netizens to spread the word.
There could also be a stronger emphasis on other, "cooler" Web sites that appeal more to China's Generation Y.
The shift in strategy is interesting. It shows that the rapid changes that have swept over conventional and online media across the world are probably as strong in China. Hopefully it does not signify a loss of interest or respect for spaceflight.
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com
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