by Tony Quine
Isle of Man, UK (SPX) Jun 04, 2012
Launch date is looming for three Chinese taikonauts, including the country's first woman in space, who will attempt to manually dock their Shenzhou 9 spacecraft at the orbiting Tiangong 1 space module. The docking will represent an important milestone, and the accomplishment of a key capability, on the Chinese roadmap towards establishing Space Station towards the end of the decade. But question arises, of what they will do, during their 10 day stay at the orbiting outpost, a 530 cubic feet module?
One simple task will be to retrieve a flag of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), which was onboard Tiangong 1 when it was launched last year.
The same flag has previously flown in space on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and a Russian Soyuz craft, and will be brought back to earth at the conclusion of the Shenzhou 9 mission. Presumably, it will be returned to the IAF, with appropriate ceremony, later this year.
One experiment which has been revealed, in the Chinese media, involves flying butterfly pupae into space, which should hatch during the course of the flight. Although precise details of the experiment have not been revealed, it appears to have been designed largely to engage the interest of Chinese school children.
Otherwise, little has been said about the precise work which the crew will undertake, the equipment which is installed in Tiangong 1 itself, or which might be brought into orbit inside the orbital module of Shenzhou 9 itself.
Tiangong-1's itself is known to be equipped with exercise gear, two sleep stations, and high-resolution interior cameras will allow the taikonauts to be closely monitored from the ground. One member of the module's three-person crew will sleep in the docked Shenzhou spacecraft.
Indeed, some reports from China have said that one crew member will stay in Shenzhou 9 for the whole flight, in case of unplanned emergencies. It is not clear if this means one individual will not enter Tiangong at all, or if the crew members will rotate this responsibility.
During the unmanned rehearsal for this mission, Shenzhou 8, flown late last year, the uncrewed craft performed a planned undocking, and re-docking, manoeuvre after 12 days, aimed to test accuracy and reliability of equipment and sensors. There has been no mention of the upcoming mission repeating this.
Otherwise, the crew are likely to carry out tests and experiments supporting long-term research into the challenges of living in space; a variety of astronomical, biological and Earth-resources experiments; and to test engineering technologies required to support the development of the space station ambitions.
Although occupation of Tiangong 1 places the Chinese programme at broadly the point that the Soviet Union and US were, in the mid-1970's with their early Salyut and Skylabs missions, the Chinese seem determined to build up their own body of research, development and engineering data, and to move their programme forward, based on their own experiences, and at their own pace.
Tony Quine is a long time observer of the Russian and Chinese manned space programmes and a regular author and contributor to both online and published media.
China in Space
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com
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Why is China sending a woman into space?
Isle of Man UK (SPX) Jun 01, 2012
"China's first female astronauts have, trained hard and conscientiously, and are now ready to take part in the Shenzhou manned spaceflights. For all astronauts the implementation of a manned spaceflight is our primary duty. They are both now ready to accept selection, by the motherland, and the Chinese people, at any moment." This was according to Major General Fei Junlong, commander of the twen ... read more
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