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2003 solo flight and 2005 flight of two were successful...

Three Chinese Astronauts Orbited in 2008

Two of the Astronauts Walked in Space

Plans for Space Station in 2010 and Landing a Man on the Moon in 2017

Chinese artist rendition of Shenzhou human capsule in orbit above Earth
Chinese artist concept of a
Shenzhou in orbit above Earth
The Peoples Republic of China, the world's most populous nation, sent three men to space in one ship on September 25, 2008.

In space, two of the astronauts, known as taikonauts or yuhangyuans, exited the Shenzhou 7 capsule briefly on September 27 for China's first-ever spacewalks.

China's human transport spacecraft are called Shenzhou, which means Divine Vessel in Chinese.

Transport capsules identified as Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 are under development for launch in 2009-2010. The Asian nation hopes to launch the three Shenzhou capsules to form a space station.

Shenzhou 8 and 9 would ferry equipment for a space station to be erected in Earth orbit, according to Chinese newspaper reports in 2005. That would be China's first space station. It would be composed of the Shenzhou 8 and 9 capsules joined together in orbit.

Shenzhou 10, then, would ferry people up to live and work in the space station. Shenzhou 10 would dock at the space station. All three spacecraft – Shenzhou 8, 9 and 10 – would be launched within the same month.

Later, China would send astronauts to land on the Moon in 2017. That would be three years ahead of NASA's planned landing of astronauts on the Moon in 2020.

The flights:       Shenzhou 1-4 »       Shenzhou 5 »       Shenzhou 6 »       Shenzhou 7 »


Long Range Plan


The one-man flight in 2003 and the two-person flight in 2005 were early landmarks in the Asian nation's long-range plan. China then launched in 2007 an unmanned two-ton satellite called Chang'e to orbit the Moon for a year and record 3D images of the lunar surface. In 2008, two Chinese astronauts performed spacewalks during the Shenzhou 7 three-person flight.

Next, China wants to: Chinese astronauts on the Moon in 2017 could set up an astronomical telescope and measure the abundance of helium-3, which could be used back on Earth as a non-polluting fuel source.


China's third piloted space flight


China sent three men to space in one Shenzhou capsule on September 25, 2008.

In space, two of the astronauts went outside the Shenzhou 7 capsule briefly on September 27 for China's first-ever spacewalks.

The astronauts. The mission commander was Zhai Zhigang. He made the first spacewalk. Astronaut Liu Boming floated outside briefly. He gave Zhai a Chinese flag that he had waved at a camera. Jing Haipeng, the third crew member, watched over the spacecraft from inside the re-entry module.

The spacewalk was carried live on state television CCTV.

While outside, Zhai was tethered to handles attached to the orbital module's exterior. He remained outside for 13 minutes, then climbed back inside and closed the hatch.

Five years later. The Shenzhou 7 flight came five years after China had launched its first piloted space mission, Shenzhou 5, back in 2003.

At that time, China had become the third country after the United States and Russia to launch a person into space. A Chinese official was reported to have said Russian technicians assisted with the Shenzhou 7 spacewalk.

Chinese food. Chinese food available to the astronauts in space included kung pao chicken, shrimp and dried fruit, according to the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Shenzhou 7 capsule, composed of three modules, flew in a circular orbit 213 miles above Earth.

A sub-satellite. Two hours after Zhai returned inside the Shenzhou capsule, a small 88-lb. satellite was released to circle independently around the orbiter and send back images to mission control on the ground in China.

The small satellite was equipped with two cameras that could capture images at distances of four meters to two kilometers (km) from Shenzhou 7.

The satellite observed and assisted the main capsule with communication, scientific experimentation, and Earth and astronomy observation.

It provided Chinese ground controllers a chance to observe and control two objects in relative motion in space in preparation for orbiter dockings in future flights. China will need orbiter docking techniques for its next manned spaceship Shenzhou-8, which will be a step toward the building of a permanent space laboratory.

The Shenzhou 7 capsule itself was to return to land on the Inner Mongolian steppe on September 28.


China's second piloted space flight


China sent its second manned spacecraft, called Shenzhou 6, to Earth orbit on October 12, 2005.

The Shenzhou 6 capsule carried two men – Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng – on a five-day flight 210 miles above Earth.

Shenzhou 6 blasted off at 9 a.m. local time (0100 UTC). Some 115.5 hours later, the pilots landed by parachute on October 17 in China's northern grasslands at Siziwangqi, Inner Mongolia.

Second anniversary. It was almost exactly two years after China's first manned flight on October 15, 2003.

China already is the third nation able to send a man into space after that October 2003 launch of Yang Liwei aboard Shenzhou 5. He orbited Earth 14 times and landed by parachute in the northern grasslands at Siziwangqi.

Today, Yang is a celebrity helping train the former fighter pilots for Shenzhou 6. Fei and Nie now also are celebrities.

Xinhua photo of Chinese Long March rocket launch of Shenzhou 6 carrying astronauts Fei and Nie
Click to enlarge Xinhua photo of Long March lofting Shenzhou 6
Live TV. The Chinese government was so confident of success before the Shenzhou 6 launch that it telecast the rocket lift-off live. Fei and Nie were seen inside as their Shenzhou capsule raced upward toward orbit, which it reached 23 minutes after launch.

Fei was heard to say he was "feeling pretty good."

The relative importance of the spaceflight to the nation was revealed when the nation's leaders tuned in. Chinese President Hu Jintao was seen on TV watching the launch from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center. Later, on October 15, he talked with the orbiting astronauts by radio from the Beijing center.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in the northwestern province of Gansu. Yang Liwei also was at the launch site.

Record setting. Shenzhou 6 traveled around Earth at about 17,528 mph at an altitude of 210 miles. The craft flew two million miles in 115 hours 32 minutes in space.

Nie and Fei easily set a new Chinese space endurance record on October 13 when they passed the 21.5 hours of time Yang Liwei had spent in orbit.

Chinese government video screen capture photo of astronauts Nie and Fei in Shenzhou 6
Chinese government video screen capture photo of astronauts Fei and Nie in Shenzhou 6

Click to enlarge:
image 1
image 2
Science. While orbiting, Fei and Nie looked down at Earth's atmosphere and the vegetation on land surfaces. They also looked at the oceans for pollution. The information they collected about land, sea and air was of use to scientists on the ground.

Landing. After five days in space, Fei and Nie returned to Earth in the re-entry capsule portion of Shenzhou 6, leaving the orbital capsule behind in space.

Back safely on the ground, they ate noodles and chocolate, drank tea, and then flew off to Beijing where they received heroes' welcomes.

Who could have flown? Fourteen male military pilots were trained for the Shenzhou 6 mission. They were divided into seven pairs. Their number was reduced when three pairs were selected from the pool in December 2004. Chinese space officials picked the final pair shortly before the flight.

Two men had been strong candidates along with Yang for the Shenzhou 5 flight – Zhai Zhigang and Nie Haisheng. Before the flight, they were said to be among the strongest candidates for the Shenzhou 6 flight. In the end, however, Fei Junlong made the flight with Nie Haisheng.


China's first piloted space flight


The Peoples Republic of China launched a piloted spacecraft to Earth orbit on October 15, 2003. Inside the Shenzhou 5 capsule was Yang Liwei, 38, a lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The spacecraft was atop a Long March 2F rocket blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at about 9 a.m. local time. The flight made China the third nation able to send a man to space, following a trail blazed by Russia and the United States.

Flags, food, phone calls. Comfortably piloting his capsule through space, Yang unfurled a small version of China's five-star national flag as well as a small United Nations flag to underscore his country's interest in peaceful exploitation of space.

About eleven hours into his flight, Yang spoke with his wife and eight-year-old son by radio, saying he felt "very good" and that the view 200 miles above Earth "looks extremely splendid around here."

Yang ate two space meals and took a three-hour nap. Typical Chinese dishes packed in his capsule included spicy-and-sour shredded pork and sliced chicken, and traditional desserts like Eight Treasure Rice. He drank Chinese herbal tea.

Future Chinese space pilots will have at hand some 20 Chinese dishes plus rice. For instance, they might eat the shredded pork with garlic sauce and drink green tea. The Shenzhou galley will offer canned fish and meat, dehydrated rice, curry rice, seafood such as prawns, and stir-fried chicken.

Xinhua photo of Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei entering Shenzhou 5 Xinhua photo of Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei in space Shenzhou 5 Xinhua photo of Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei exiting Shenzhou 5
Yang Liwei entering, flying, and exiting Shenzhou 5
click individual image to enlarge      credit: xinhua news agency
Safe landing. Some 21 hours after launch, when the Shenzhou capsule had carried Yang around Earth 14 times, the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center sent a radio command ordering the capsule's re-entry module to separate from the orbital module and then ignite retro rockets to slow down.

That caused the module with Yang inside to re-enter the atmosphere where it floated down under a parachute. It landed on the grasslands of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of north China at 6:23 a.m. October 16.

Shenzhou 5 touched down within three miles of the landing target. The flight had lasted 21 hours 23 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Shenzhou orbital module remained in space for six months to carry out automated research.

Prepared for the worst. Yang had been equipped in advance for an off-target landing. Shenzhou designer Qi Faren was quoted by a government newspaper before the flight as saying, "The craft may land in the ocean or in the forests in a hostile environment.

"For the safety of astronauts, they will take a lot of things with them like a pistol, knife and other rescue equipment including a tent and liferaft so they will be able to deal with wild beasts, sharks and other dangerous animals or enemies."

Xinhua photo of Chinese Long March rocket launch of Shenzhou 5 carrying astronaut Yang Liwei
Long March lofts Shenzhou 5
First choice. Yang was selected from 14 People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force jet fighter pilots who had been in training for the mission for years.

Traveling almost 400,000 miles during his flight, Yang was the 241st human to go to space.

The 5 foot 6 inch Yang is the son of a teacher's family in Suizhong County in Liaoning Province of northeast China. Zhang Yumei, Yang's wife, is employed at China Space City outside Beijing.

National hero. After landing, Yang left the re-entry module in good condition. Looking only slightly pale after his extraordinary experience, he waved to hundreds of cheering, dancing people who had gathered to welcome him back.

"It is a splendid moment in the history of my motherland and also the greatest day of my life," Yang said, according to Xinhua News Agency.   [Xinhua]

As people across China saw highlights of the flight and landing on television, Yang immediately became a hero of the nation. A space official in Beijing told Xinhua that Yang "is both a space hero and a national hero of China."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed China's first mannned spaceflight a "complete success."

In the museum. Today, Yang's spacesuit, samples of the special food he ate, and the Shenzhou 5 landing parachute and landing capsule are displayed for the public in China's International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition Centre at Zhuhai.


Shenzhou Test Flights


Chinese Shenzhou launch
A Shenzhou launch
Preparing to ferry Chinese yuhangyuans up to orbit, China launched a series of four unmanned Shenzhou capsules on new Long March 2F (CZ-2F) rockets from the Jiuquan spaceport from 1999-2002. The last three Shenzhou test flights stayed in space for about seven days. The test flights went so well the first manned flight was able to blast off in October 2003. The program is an important prestige project for the communist government, which touts the flights as proof of the communist system's technical prowess. The government uses the flights to gather respect abroad and popular support at home. Back in the 1960s, the U.S.-Soviet space race had the same effect for those nations.


Yuhangyuans


While men and women who fly in American spacecraft are known as astronauts, and those who fly in Russian spacecraft are cosmonauts, those who fly in Chinese spacecraft are known as yuhangyuans or sometimes taikonauts.

The word yuhangyuan is Chinese for space navigator. It is the name used by official media when reporting on the nation's astronauts. The word taikonaut is derived from taikong, the Chinese word for space. The term is believed to have been used first by a Singapore website.

The Beijing Youth Daily newspaper reported in 2005 that China plans to recruit more men and women for future flights since all 14 of the nation's male military-pilot yuhangyuans are more than 30 years old.

After the Shenzhou 6 flight, Tang Xianming, director of the China Space Engineering Office, said the nation wants to add female astronauts.

He also said they want to move beyond merely developing spaceflight vehicles to spacewalks and rendezvous and docking with multiple spacecraft.


Training in Russia


China's activity for more than a decade had suggested the Asian nation was developing a manned spaceflight capability, but the government had not confirmed it. Two Chinese yuhangyuan trainers were sent to Russia's cosmonaut training school just outside Moscow to learn how to pilot a space ship. They completed training in 1997 and returned to China without becoming part of a crew to the Russian space station Mir. The government controlled Yangcheng Evening News reported the two who trained in Russia were training others for space flights.

SARS. The Communist Party newspaper, People's Daily, had announced in May 2003 that the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China would not be allowed to delay the nation's first piloted space flight.

The newspaper said space officials had taken preventive measures so SARS would not affect the launch of Shenzhou 5. At the time, the nation's Health Ministry was reporting that SARS had killed 230 and infected 5,000 persons across China.


The Shenzhou Transport Capsule


China's human transport spacecraft are called Shenzhou, which in Chinese means either Divine Vessel, Sacred Vessel, Magic Vessel, Vessel of the Gods, Divine Craft or Divine Mechanism.

Shenzhou also is a play on a literary name for China – Divine Land – with the same pronunciation.

The spacecraft were named by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The National Manned Space Program has been referred to by the Chinese as Project 921.

Including its orbital, re-entry and propulsion modules, Shenzhou 5 was about 30 feet long and weighed about 17,000 lbs. or 8.5 tons. The shape of Shenzhou 6 is just like Shenzhou 5.

However, the state-run China News Service reported more than 100 technology changes so the yuhangyuans aboard Shenzhou 6 can carry out more elaborate science experiments.

In space, the yuhangyuans will take off their 22 lb. space suits. They will be able to move around between the orbiter capsule and the re-entry capsule as they conduct their science experiments.

The yuhangyuans will wash, rest in sleeping bags and heat their food.

Copy of a copy of a copy. The dome-shaped Shenzhou design looks much like a Russian Soyuz capsule, which originally was designed in the early 1960s. Even then, that early Soyuz design in 1962 was said to be similar to the General Electric Company's proposal for America's Apollo capsule. Russia uses the Soyuz capsule to carry cosmonauts and astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

A complete Shenzhou spacecraft includes a forward orbital module, a re-entry capsule, and an aft service module. The orbital module has a hatch where yuhangyuans can exit for a spacewalk (EVA).

Shenzhou is a bit larger that a Soyuz, which can seat up to three persons. China may intend, eventually, to fly four yuhangyuans in Shenzhou capsules.

Shenzhou capsules have flown at altitudes ranging from 122 to 207 miles (196-334 km).

The capsules are built by the state-run China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. They are precursors for an eventual Chinese space station. At the end of future flights, the orbital modules could remain in space as additional elements of a space station.

Crop seeds from Taiwan also were flown aboard Shenzhou 5.

Chief designer. Shenzhou's chief designer was Qi Faren, who had been one of the designers of China's first satellite and who had been appointed the general designer of Chinese spacecraft in 1992.

Cost billions. China said after Yang's flight that it had spent US$2.17 billion (18 billion yuan) on the man-in-space program over eleven years from its start in 1992.

Each of the first four test flights of unmanned Shenzhou capsules prior to Shenzhou 5 cost less than US$120 million (one billion yuan), China reported.


Desert Launch Site


Chinese launch sites
Chinese spaceports
Shenzhou spacecraft are blasted off from the isolated Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest Gansu province in the Gobi Desert a thousand miles west of the capital city of Beijing.

In ancient times, Jiuquan was an oasis on the Silk Road.

In modern times, Jiuquan became China's first launch site, built in the Gobi desert north of Jiuquan City in the 1960s. Back then, it was limited to southeastern launches into 57-70 degree orbits to avoid overflying Russia and Mongolia. Western nations had called the site Shuang Cheng Tzu.

Many Long March space rockets and atmospheric sounding rockets have been fired from Jiuquan. The base is used for recoverable Earth observation and microgravity missions. However, due to the site's remote geographical location, most Chinese commercial spaceflights take off from other spaceports. Manned flights take off from Jiuquan.

Launches and landings from Jiuquan occur during northern hemisphere autumn and winter months (southern hemisphere spring and summer) because the seas are calmer then for the Yuanwang tracking ships stationed on oceans around the world. Sea conditions are poor during the southern hemisphere autumn and winter months.

Mission control center. In preparation for piloted flights, the Chinese built a new mission control center 30 miles northwest of the capital city of Beijing as well as a large vehicle assembly building at the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert.

The mission control center is known as Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre. Engineering labs for assembling and testing the manned capsules have been built at sites around Beijing. After assembly, spacecraft and rockets travel by train west to Jiuquan in the northwestern Gansu Province.

Xi'an Satellite Monitoring Center in the central Chinese province of Shaanxi is in charge of a re-entry module's recovery. Landings are on the vast Inner Mongolian plain where winter temperatures can reach below minus 22 degrees Farenheit (-30 degrees Celsius).


Tracking Shenzhou


Chinese Spacecraft Tracking Ship
Chinese space tracking ship

There are four ocean vessels in the spacecraft tracking fleet, named Yuanwang 1, 2, 3 and 4. Yuanwang means "Long View." The Chinese refer to the fleet as "maritime aerospace survey vessels" carrying "transoceanic aerospace observation and control technology."

They are large ships with arrays of receiving and transmitting antennas and satellite tracking dishes. Each ship weighs 21,000 tons when fully loaded.

Newest of the space tracking ships, Yuanwang 4, was the former scientific survey ship Xiang Yang Hong refurbished by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation for the China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General.

All of the ships were overhauled at the end of the 1990s in preparation for piloted flight operations. They then tracked the unmanned flights of the Shenzhou capsules between November 1999 and January 2003.

Chinese government-controlled television and the official Xinhua News Agency reported the ships were been assigned to the western Pacific Ocean, southern Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean west of Australia, and southern Atlantic Ocean to track and control the Shenzhou spacecraft. That was a pattern similar to Russian deployment before piloted flights.

Their recent trips to track the unmanned Shenzhou flights were the first time four Chinese space tracking ships had sailed simultaneously and the first time the tracking fleet had operated outside the Pacific Ocean.

Namibia tracking station. In addition, a tracking, telemetry and command station has been constructed at the South Atlantic coastal town of Swakopmund in central Namibia in east Africa. The station has an administration building and two antennas.

China's Xi'an Satellite Control Centre in the central Chinese province of Shaanxi operates the Swakopmund ground station. Other tracking stations are in Pakistan and at the Jiuquan spaceport.

Landing sequence. When the time comes to land, a Shenzhou capsule begins the re-entry phase of its flight over Namibia on its way down to a landing site in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

China in Space


Back in 1970, China became the fifth nation in the world to launch an artificial moon to orbit above Earth. That satellite, Mao-1, rode atop a Long March-1 rocket from Jiuquan.
[more about Chinese satellites]

China has successfully launched dozens of its Long March booster rockets.

The new Long March rocket used to launch Shenzhou capsules is comparable to the United States' powerful Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), which are Delta-4 and Atlas-5 rockets.

Long March rockets have been used for years to ferry to Earth orbit satellites built by the People's Republic of China and other countries. Chinese officials had hoped to launch a manned craft in time for the October 1999 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. That goal was not met. However, the National Day parade on October 1 displayed models of rockets, including a Chinese version of a U.S. space shuttle.

Only the United States and Russia launched manned space missions in the 20th century. They launched capsules carrying one, two and three astronauts throughout the 1960s and later. Their multi-person flight crews included astronauts and cosmonauts from numerous countries.

In the beginning, the USSR sent Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 to orbit on April 12, 1961. Just 23 days later, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space. Shepard traveled less than one orbit nine months before John Glenn carried the U.S. flag for three orbits on Feb. 20, 1962.

Project Apollo dropped the first Americans on the lunar surface back in 1969. A dozen astronauts visited the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972. No other nation has sent men to the Moon. NASA said in 2005 it plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2018.

In the 21st century, Shenzhou is part of a larger Chinese program to build and occupy an independent space station and to land yuhangyuans on the Moon. China is not part of the current 16-nation International Space Station consortium led by NASA.


Project 921


The manned-flight launch pads, rockets, capsules and yuhangyuans have been labeled Project 921.

So far, China has used Long March 2F rockets to launch the Shenzhou capsules. That version of a Long March can loft 10 metric tons to orbit. In a few years, China is expected to have a bigger rocket that will be able to lift 70 metric tons of payload to Earth orbit. That would be sufficient capacity to put a space station into orbit or take human beings to the Moon.

Docking in space. After the first manned flight, a later Shenzhou flight of two spacecraft could demonstrate docking in space. That level of development would be compared with U.S. one-person Mercury capsules flown from 1961-63 and two-person Gemini capsules flown in 1965-66. The Soviet Union flew cosmonauts on similar flights starting in 1961.

China purchased a Kurs docking system from Russia. That hardware would allow two spacecraft to come together in space, suggesting an orbital docking by two ships is planned. Such a docking could involve two Shenzhou capsules, or a capsule and a space station.

Failure. China has suffered space-related disasters. For instance, an unmanned Long March 3B rocket veered off course seconds after liftoff in February 1996. It crashed in the nearby town of Xichang. Photographs showed large-scale devastation and officials announced that six people had died.

The flights:       Shenzhou 1-4 »       Shenzhou 5 »       Shenzhou 6 »       Shenzhou 7 »


Learn More About China in Space


Shenzhou 7 with Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng: Shenzhou 6 with Nie Haisheng and Fei Junlong: 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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