Plans come together for next Chinese manned spaceflight
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: July 15, 2005
China's next manned space endeavor could occur as early as October, according to state media reports. The mission would come two years after the first Chinese piloted flight.
A crew of two would likely be selected to fly in the days leading up the launch, much like the plans carried out in advance of the nation's first manned space flight in October 2003. Up to 14 military pilots have been training for the mission over the past couple of years, and officials recently selected six for continued training, the China Daily newspaper said.
The six astronauts are training in teams of two, and managers will evaluate their performance before the final pair are chosen to carry out the mission.
Officials are now planning to launch the Shenzhou 6 spacecraft in early October on a flight lasting five or six days, Chinese representatives told China Daily. Preparations have been ongoing since Shenzhou 5 returned from orbit with pilot Yang Liwei aboard almost two years ago on a orbital flight that lasted just 21 hours.
Like all Shenzhou craft before, the mission will streak into space atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan launch center located in the Gansu province in remote northwestern China.
Drills have included training in simulated microgravity, repair methods for spacecraft systems and experiments, and how to respond to other emergencies that could arise.
Yang Liwei, the sole occupant in China's historic first crewed mission, was among the original 14 candidates that began competing for the opportunity to fly into space. The Beijing Times report earlier this month that Yang might be among the final six astronauts, but that a source did not expect him to be chosen to fly again because "there are other well-qualified astronauts who also deserve a place in Chinese history."
Since the Shenzhou 5 mission, Chinese officials have further developed plans to implement its human spaceflight program over the coming decade. On the next flight, the crew will likely venture from their seats in the entry portion of the Shenzhou vehicle to the orbital module where there is more volume for living space and experiments.
In addition to the testing of spacecraft systems and astronaut performance, other goals of the mission will revolve around biology and engineering experiments, Earth observation, and possibly other "unspecified tests," state media reported.
The orbital module with its own autonomous systems will likely stay behind in space after the crew returns to Earth to conduct more operations.
Spacewalks are currently slated to be part of the subsequent Shenzhou 7 voyage, but a launch date for that flight could be over a year away. Rendezvous and docking operations could occur soon thereafter. Longer term strategies call for the development and launch of a laboratory and space station to be operated over much longer periods of time.
China's fledgling manned spaceflight program puts it in the ranks with the United States and Russia as the only nations capable of launching humans into space. Last year, leaders from the Chinese National Space Administration met with former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to discuss future cooperation activities and to establish a more frequent exchange.
China currently widely operates on cooperative projects with space agencies from Europe, Brazil, and Russia, and on a limited basis with other nations.