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Final Countdown for Shenzhou 10
by Dr Morris Jones for
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jun 10, 2013

Wang Yaping will be China's second female astronaut.

The countdown to the launch of Shenzhou 10 is getting closer. Barring any sudden technical problems with the Long March 2F launch vehicle, the spacecraft should soon be on its way towards a rendezvous with the Tiangong 1 space laboratory. Fuelling of the rocket began just over a day before launch time, which has been officially announced as 5:38 PM (China time) on Tuesday June 11.

A final media conference held roughly a day before launch yielded some more information on the upcoming mission. The crew has been confirmed as the Shenzhou 9 backup crew of Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping, China's second female astronaut. Nie previously flew on the Shenzhou 6 mission.

There were references to "partial technical modifications" to the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft and the Long March 2F rocket to improve their reliability, but no details were given. Any such modifications are likely to be minor, and probably difficult to spot.

As expected, there will be an automatic docking and a separate experiment with manual docking between Shenzhou and Tiangong. It was stated that Wang Yaping is capable of conducting manual docking operations, which could suggest that she is as fully trained as her male counterparts. This is not a condescending remark, as both Wang and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, received "accelerated training" to ensure that they would both be ready for the Shenzhou 9 mission in 2012.

This special training was believed to delete some elements given to other astronauts. These latest remarks suggest that Wang has been fully trained to the same level as the rest of the astronaut corps. It is also possible that Liu has also undergone further training.

The media conference yielded some minor surprises, such as the fact that some sort of repairs would be made to Tiangong during the mission. A spokeswoman suggested that this involved repairs to hatch seals aboard the module. It was previously mentioned that the "floor" of Tiangong would also be replaced to make it less bouncy, and this was repeated during question time at the media conference.

Vague references to experiments to be performed on Tiangong were made, which include medical, scientific and technological experiments. The goal of gaining experience for longer space missions was mentioned, as were plans for a future Chinese space station.

One major change in on-board operations involves sleep and work routines. Tiangong will not be constantly staffed by astronauts working in shifts. This time, the astronauts will all sleep during the same time period. This suggests a higher level of confidence in the safe operations of Tiangong and the Shenzhou spacecraft.

The annoying lack of media coverage seems to be breaking, too. Chinese media Web sites are now providing better coverage and China Central Television is like video wallpaper about the flight.

Liu Yang, China's first astronaut, was also interviewed about Wang's trip. She suggested that Wang would encounter a surprise when the Shenzhou 10 crew entered the laboratory. Presumably, it's something nice that she left behind. If the "surprise" was intended specifically for Wang, it would suggest that Liu was expecting Wang to fly on Shenzhou 10 long before China suggested it. This is another interesting potential deduction from this recent broadcast.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has covered the Shenzhou program for since 1999. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.


Related Links
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
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