October 13, 2005

China Tests Astronauts’ Endurance for Space Lab

BEIJING -- Two Chinese astronauts circling the Earth are doing experiments to help China find ways to put up people in a potential space laboratory for long stretches, Xinhua news agency said.

After blasting off on Wednesday morning, Nie Haisheng and Fei Junlong started tests by exaggerating their movements while opening and closing internal doors, changing out of their space suits and using equipment to check the effects on the craft's trajectory, Xinhua said.

"The two astronauts will bring back to Earth data from the tests, which is a must to build a permanent man-tended space laboratory, the ultimate goal of the country's current space program," the agency quoted Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space program, as saying.

China has talked about using such a lab or a space station as "a platform for deep space probes" and about putting a man on the moon as it moves forward with its ambitious space program.

Nie and Fei will also test China's new space toilet technology, which uses a plastic hose and air pump to keep all waste, including potentially dangerous flatulence, in a sealed container, according to Xinhua.

"An astronaut can be blown away by his or her own intestinal gas, which can also pollute the air inside space capsules," it quoted Li Tanqiu, an aerospace expert, as saying.

China's first man in space, Yang Liwei, was strapped to his seat throughout his 14 orbits of the Earth in the Shenzhou V spacecraft in October 2003.

The larger Shenzhou VI is equipped with a secondary orbital module to give Nie and Fei room to conduct experiments as well as eat and sleep in relative comfort.

The orbital module contained chicken and silkworm eggs that would be checked back on Earth for possible genetic mutations, the Beijing Times reported.

Xinhua also said three pieces of cloth embroidered with the symbol of the Shenzhou VI's flight, China's astronaut training center and Mao Zedong would "be used for scientific research after the craft returns." It did not elaborate.

The state news agency previously reported sperm from two select pigs would be stored onboard and brought back for analysis, but no mention of the samples has been made since Wednesday's launch.

China has warned nomads and herdsmen to be on the lookout early on Monday morning, when the Shenzhou VI's re-entry capsule is expected to make landfall on remote grassland.