China Could Launch Manned Space Flights In 2012
China is planning to launch two manned space flights in 2012 as it prepares to secure a long-term manned presence in space, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Monday.
CNSA is also considering sending female astronauts aboard the spacecrafts Shenzou-9 and Shenzou-10 which will dock with the agency’s space lab Tiangong-1 next year, said Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Center of China.
“We must assess both male and female astronauts to verify if human beings can live in space as there are huge differences between men and women in spite of their common generalities,” Chen said in an exclusive interview with the Xinhua news agency on the eve of the launch of Shenzhou-8 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
A spokeswoman for China’s space program, Wu Ping, said a rocket will lift the craft into orbit from northwest China on Tuesday at 5:58 a.m. local time (5:58 p.m. EDT). Shenzou-8 will dock with the orbiting experimental space module Tiangong-1, which launched September 29.
“Space exploration activities would be incomplete without the participation of female astronauts,” said Chen.
Wu said nine crew members have already been selected for the two space docking missions in 2012 and are being trained with manual docking skills. Seven of the crew members are from the country’s first group of 14 astronauts, which includes China’s first astronaut in space, Yang Liwei, who made his historic flight in 2003, and Zhai Zhigang, the first astronaut to conduct extra vehicular activities (EVA) in 2008.
The two female astronauts came from the second set of astronauts from late 2009 and early 2010, according to Chen.
The upcoming unmanned docking mission and the two manned missions planned for next year marks China’s bid to develop the technologies and logistics required to operate a long-term manned space lab.
“According to the mission plans, at least one of the two flights next year will be manned,” said Wu.
China’s unmanned mission will help determine whether a modified version of the Shenzhou spacecraft “is suited to the needs of manned space travel,” said Wu.
One of the major skills needed to operate a sustainable space station is being able to safely dock a spacecraft to the space lab. Collisions between the two systems can be costly, and fatal if they are manned.
“It is quite difficult and risky to join together two vehicles traveling at high speeds in orbit, with a margin of error of no more than 20 centimeters,” said Wu according to Reuters.
Besides the upcoming Shenzhou space docking missions, China also has in its sights plans to send an unmanned rover to the moon in 2012, and has even talked about the possibility of sending a man to the moon sometime after 2020.
On the Net:
- You can find out more on China’s space program at http://www.china.com.cn/