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China's great big leap skyward
by Zhou Erjie for Xinhua News
Beijing (XNA) Nov 08, 2011

The Chinese manned space program has announced its plan on 20 future space voyages, which will help satisfy demand for indigenous spacecraft manufacturing and launch services.

A Chinese Long March 2F carrier rocket hurled Shenzhou-8 into orbit a week ago. Two days later, the unmanned spacecraft linked up with the Tiangong-1 module, accomplishing China's first space docking.

Less than two months before, however, an orbiter launched by a similar Long March rocket had failed to reach its designated orbit due to a malfunction.

After the failure, Chinese rocket engineers "started all over again," putting an all-out effort to solving the problem. As a result of their diligence, the modified rocket carrying Shenzhou-8 was launched at its originally scheduled time and put the spacecraft into orbit in a "near perfect" fashion, said Jin Muchun, chief rocket system designer for the mission.

This rapid and successful correction of a design flaw reflects the quest for perfection and dedication of Chinese space engineers. It may also explain how China's space program has achieved such success.

"We never push ahead for the sake of speed and we don't turn our back on problems," said Li Jie, a senior official with China's manned space program. "At meetings, instead of praising each other, we always put forward questions, one after another."

Compared with the United States and Russia, China came late to manned space exploration. However, since the start of the country's manned space program in 1992, China has sent six astronauts into space and completed the country's first space walk and space docking.

"China has steadily pursued a solid space program by making incremental steps," Canadian space expert Erik Seedhouse told Xinhua.

Phillip Clark, a long-time observer who has been following the Chinese space endeavors since the launch of Dongfanghong-1 in 1970, said China is making impressive progress and is following its own pace without racing against anyone.

"Although there have been long gaps between Chinese manned flights, each mission has been a greater progression than we saw in the 1960s," Clark said.

For example, he said, when Lieutenant Colonel Yang Liwei flew in 2003 China's first manned space adventure he was in orbit for nearly a day. In contrast, the United States didn't have such a long flight until its sixth manned mission.

China sent three men into space and completed a space walk on Shenzhou-7, the country's third manned flight. China hit these important milestones during earlier missions than did either the Soviet Union or the United States.

Neither of the latter countries achieved a space walk until its eighth space mission. As for three-man space flights, the Soviets had their first during the seventh mission and Americans achieved this feat on its 17th mission, according to data collected by Clark.

"This shows how China has progressed in greater leaps from one flight to the next," Clark said.

The success of the Nov. 3 docking procedure makes China the third country in the world, after the United States and Russia, to master the technique, moving the country one step closer to establishing its own space station.

"Completing this in-orbit test is a significant milestone in China's space program," said Tim Robinson, editor of the Aerospace International journal.

"The successful docking is another strong sign that underlines the position of strength that is increasingly defining China's space industry," space expert Seedhouse told Xinhua in an e-mail message.

"It will also help China's commercial space business and bring Chinese closer to realizing their own space station; by doing that they will demonstrate just how capable and robust their space program is, and (they) will be well-positioned to realize the goals of landing astronauts on the Moon," Seedhouse said.

After the first space docking, China will push ahead with its space program with more confidence in the decade to come.

The Chinese manned space program has announced its plan on 20 future space voyages, which will help satisfy demand for indigenous spacecraft manufacturing and launch services.

China also plans to establish its own space lab around 2016 and assemble a 60-tonne manned space station around 2020, when the current International Space Station is estimated to likely retire.

Source: Xinhua News Agency


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