Azja-Pacyfik

First Chinese Woman in Space (added on 2012-07-14)

China has reached another milestone in the lengthy process of space exploration. The Shenzhou 9 (Divine Ship) spacecraft has launched the first Chinese taikonaut into the Earth's orbit, and it has successfully docked with the unmanned experimental testbed Tiangong 1 (Heavenly Palace).

The flight of Shenzhou 9 began on June 16, 2012, with Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang, on board. During the longest manned flight in the history of Chinese cosmonautics (10-days-long) there were two dockings with Tiangong 1: the first , automatic on June 18 and 6 days later the second, crew-guided. On June 27 a successful, crew-guided dispatching was conducted and on June 29 Shenzhou 9 returned to Earth. The Tiangong 1 experimental testbed, launched into space in Spetember 2011 is used for exercises preparing a 60-ton  space station (to be finished in 2020) to be placed on the orbit of the Earth.

The flight in which Liu Yang took part took place precisely 49 years after the feat of Valentina Tereshkova from Russia. It was the second flight for the oldest member of the crew, Jing Haipeng, and the first for 42-year-old Liu Wang and 33-year-old Liu Yang. Liu Yang, a mayor of the People’s Liberation Army is an experienced military pilot and had been preparing herself for the mission for only two years. A second manned flight is planned in 2012.

The Chinese space program started in the mid-50’s in cooperation with the Soviet Union, with Qian Xueshen, a scientist expelled from the US on charges of espionage, as its key person. After the sino-soviet split the Chinese conducted their own research. In 1970 they managed to launch their first satellite, Dongfanghong 1 (The East Is Red). In the 1980’s research intensified and the construction of space shuttles commenced. Projects 863 and 921 led to the creation of the Shenzhou ships. The first, Shenzhou 1, was launched on November 20, 1999. The first manned Shenzhou flight took place on October 15, 2003, and the first Chinese taikonaut was Yang Liwei, whose flight lasted altogether 21 hours. In 2008, during the Shenzhou 7 flight one of the three-person crew Zhai Zhighang took a walk in space.

China is intensively developing its space exploration program and is hoping to send a man to the Moon in the next five years. They are also working on meteorological and communicational satellite systems. The Beidou (Ursa Major) satellite navigation system will have covered the whole of Asia by the end of 2012 and the entire globe by 2020.

The Chinese engagement in space research worries many countries, especially after January 11, 2007, when China, using ground equipment, shot down their own meteorological satellite, Feng Yun 1C. China is the third country (after the USA and Russia) which is able to take down an object in space. There is a threat that China’s increased presence in outer space could lead to a renewal of  the rivalry for using extra-terrestrial resources and a fight for cosmic domination.

The USA still has the most modern space technology and is the first, when it comes to the exploitation and research of outer space, but due to the financial crisis it is cutting spending on the development of cosmonautics. Russia is unable to develop its space program as well and simply keeps up the status quo. Despite heavy spending and huge effort, China, aspiring to be a global power, is still light years away from the leaders. China’s goal is not getting ahead of them or space domination, but only minimizing the delay. The Tiangong space station will be five times smaller than the existing (since 1998) International Space Station, which will be probably disassembled in 2020.

Redakcja: azjapacyfik@swps.edu.pl. Wykonanie strony: Stanisław Meyer, stan.meyer@uj.edu.pl.