China in Space History of
China in Space


      We've come a long way in the 2,300 years since Chinese religious mandarins first tossed ceremonial bamboo tubes packed with gunpowder into festival fires to drive off evil spirits.

      Sometime between 300 B.C. and A.D. 1000, "fire arrows" were used in China, but historians aren't sure if those were rockets or merely conventional arrows burning. Either way, when firecrackers finally did turn into rockets, the sulphur, saltpeter and charcoal in gunpowder formed the earliest solid fuel for rockets. By A.D. 1045, gunpowder rockets were important weapons in in China's military arsenal.

      Fire Arrows. The Sung Dynasty improved gunpowder projectiles in the 13th century with new explosive grenades and cannon to hold off growing Mongolian hordes. Fire arrows repelled Mongol invaders at the battle of Kai-fung-fu in A.D. 1232.

      Old records show the huge Chinese gunpowder rockets carried iron shrapnel and incendiary material, and may have had the first combustion-chamber "iron pots" to direct thrust. The noise from the blast off of a fire arrow was heard for 15 miles and its impact demolished everything within half a mile.

Chinese rocket launch       The Long March Family. China's first long-range military ballistic missiles, and eventually space rockets, were developed by Tsein Weichang, an immigrant to the U.S. from China. Tsein Weichang was educated in Canada, then worked for the U.S. government at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, only to be forced back to his homeland in 1949 in America's spasm of anti-communist witch hunting.

      Mao Zedong revolutionized the ancient territory of China after his Communist victory in 1949. Mao's Peoples Republic of China (PRC) opened its first Missile and Rocket Research Institution on October 8, 1956. At that time the PRC was on friendly terms with the former USSR.

      Hindered by what China today recalls as "technical blockades put in by the imperialist countries," nothing much happened until the 1960's when experiments with liquid-fuel rockets picked up steam. Satellites, and the space rockets needed to carry them to orbit, were designed.

Chinese launch sites       Mao 1. The PRC launched its first satellite -- known as China 1 or Mao 1 -- to Earth orbit on its own "Long March" space rocket on April 24, 1970. The 390-lb. electronic ball floated around the Earth blaring the patriotic song The East Is Red.

      China has made scores of successful satellite launches since 1970. They have included remote sensing, communications and weather satellites for both civilian and military use. Satellites have been launched for paying foreign owners.

      Homing satellite. In November 1975, the first Long March 2 rocket carried China's first "homing satellite" to orbit. That made China the third nation capable of retrieving a satellite. Since then, the PRC has sent numerous satellites to orbit with packages to be retrieved from space.

      Multiple Launches. The pace of China's space industry picked up in the 1980s and 1990s. In September 1981, the PRC successfully launched three satellites to orbit with one rocket.

      Manned Capsules. In 1999, China launched and recovered an unmanned capsule designed to carry men and women into orbit in the 21st century.

Shenzhou 1 was launched on November 19, 1999. It made 14 orbits around Earth carrying a dummy yuhangyuan, experimental seeds, commemorative stamps, national flags, and a banner with signatures of participating engineers and scientists. The descent module landed on November 20 in Inner Mongolia.

Shenzhou 2 was launched on January 9, 2001. It completed 107 orbits around Earth carrying a monkey, a dog, a rabbit, some snails, gamma ray burst detectors, and 64 scientific payloads. The craft maneuvered in orbit three times, and came down after seven days, landing on January 16 in Inner Mongolia.

Shenzhou 3 was launched on March 25, 2002. It made 107 orbits around Earth carrying a dummy yuhangyuan, maneuvered in orbit, and came down after seven days, landing on April 1 in Inner Mongolia. Life science experiments on the flight included a box of eggs of black-bone chicken from the Taihe County of Jiangxi Province, tightly packed two days after being laid. The eggs were hatched after their return to Earth.

Shenzhou 4 was launched on December 29, 2002. It completed 108 revolutions around Earth carrying a dummy yuhangyuan and 52 science payloads, and came down after seven days, landing on Jan. 5 in Inner Mongolia. The official Xinhua News Agency said Shenzhou 4 housed all of the facilities necessary to accommodate three people in manned flight.

Shenzhou 5 was launched on October 15, 2003, carrying one astronaut, Yang Liwei, on a 21.5 hour flight.

Shenzhou 6 was launched on October 12, 2005, carrying two men – Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng – on a five-day flight 210 miles above Earth.

Shenzhou 7 was expected to be launched in 2007.


Learn More About China in Space

Shenzhou 5 and Yang Liwei: Chinese Lunar Exploration: Chinese Space Launch Sites: Chinese Space Rockets: Chinese Space Satellites: China's space industry: Learn more about China:


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