Shenzhou 7 put on pad for China's next manned flight
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: September 20, 2008
The 19-story rocket that will dispatch three Chinese astronauts into the final frontier next week was moved from a massive assembly building to the launch pad Saturday.
The Long March 2F rocket, topped with the Shenzhou 7 capsule, rode a rail track nearly 1 mile to its launch pad at the Jiuquan space center in northwestern China. Jiuquan is located near the border between the provinces of Gansu and Inner Mongolia.
The move occurred at about 0715 GMT (3:15 a.m. EDT), according to the state-owned Xinhua news agency.
Xinhua, one of the few official sources of information on the upcoming Shenzhou 7 mission, reported the rocket transfer took more than an hour. The launcher was assembled vertically inside a vast integration building.
The 191-foot-tall rocket could launch as early as Thursday, according to earlier reports.
Launch on Thursday would occur at 1310 GMT (9:10 a.m. EDT), or 9:10 p.m. local time at Jiuquan. The mission could lift off in a launch period extending until Sept. 30, Xinhua reported.
Shenzhou 7 will carry three Chinese military pilots on a three-day mission that will include the burgeoning space program's first spacewalk.
Zhai Zhigang, a 42-year-old pilot in the Chinese air force, will don a 265-pound indigenous spacesuit for a 40-minute excursion outside the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft. Zhai will be tethered to the ship during the spacewalk, reportedly scheduled for Friday or Saturday on the flight's second day in space.
Zhai will deploy a small satellite, record video and retrieve a "solid lubrication material" from the exterior of the spacecraft, according to Xinhua.
Zhai will be joined on the mission by Jing Haipeng and Liu Boming, the designated backup for the spacewalk. Liu is expected to join Zhai in the ship's orbital module to help the astronaut prepare for the spacewalk while Jing stays behind in the descent module, where the crew is housed during launch and landing.
Chinese state television will provide live coverage of the launch and the groundbreaking spacewalk, officials announced earlier this week.
Shenzhou 7 will be China's third human spaceflight since the nation's first piloted mission in 2003. Two astronauts flew into space on a five-day mission in 2005 to demonstrate the ship's ability to support longer flights.