Historic Shenzhou-9 Space Mission Enters China’s First Space Station
The Chinese Space Agency has succeeded in a months-long plan to inhabit the country’s first orbiting space station, Tiangong-1. The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft launched this past weekend, carrying the first female Chinese astronaut — or taikonaut, the craft docked with the waiting station. China is now the third country on Earth to have established a habitable orbiting outpost.
The mission launched this past Saturday with a three person crew. After two days catching up to the Tiangong-1 station, the craft docked quite dramatically. The docking maneuver was handled entirely by ground control, but a manual docking procedure is planned for later in the mission.
After watching the slow drama of NASA missions, the speed at which Shenzhou-9 comes into contact with the station is downright shocking.
This mission has a remarkable number of achievements. In addition to this being the first manned mission to a Chinese space station, crewmember Jing Haipeng is now the first taikonaut to fly in space more than once; a testament to how quickly the Chinese manned space program has matured since the first taikonaut went into space in 2003. Crewmember Liu Yang also marks an important first for the Chinese space program as the first female member of the Chinese space program to fly in space.
Certainly not coincidentally, June 18 is the anniversary of NASA’s first woman in space, Sally Ride.
Though certainly a major milestone for the Chinese space program, Tiangong-1 is still considered a prototype. At 6.5 tons it is far smaller than the 60 ton station that China has planned to build in space. Though even that will still be a fraction of the size of the International Space Station.
Taikonauts will only be at Tiangong-1 for about two weeks. However, a second manned mission — Shenzhou-10 — is already in the works and slated to begin sometime in 2013.
(via Universe Today)