China prepares for manned space docking

Updated: 2012-03-01 18:54


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BEIJING - A leading Chinese space engineer said here Thursday that China's first unmanned space module, the Tiangong-1, is now capable of accommodating astronauts, making it possible for China to carry out its first manned space docking mission ahead of schedule.

Qi Faren, the former chief designer of the Shenzhou spaceships series, spoke with Xinhua on China's space missions ahead of the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body, which is slated to open Saturday.

China will launch its manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft between June and August this year, and conduct a space rendezvous and docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, said Qi, who is a member of the CPPCC National Committee.

Qi's remarks mark major progress in China's space industry, as Chinese space engineers and scientists had previously planned to let the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft complete its first manned space docking mission after one more unmanned docking by Shenzhou-9.

"The unmanned docking between the Shenzhou-8 and the Tiangong-1 was much better than what we had anticipated," Qi said. "Therefore, we decided to put forward the manned docking mission with the Shenzhou-9 ahead of schedule."

Qi said tests and observations showed that the environment and food reserves inside the Tiangong-I space lab module are able to sustain one astronaut living and working there for 60 days, or two astronauts for 30 days.

He said authorities have picked three astronauts for the manned docking, a mission that the astronauts will have to manually conduct, and they have already completed their training.

According to Qi, one of the three Shenzhou-9 crew members will not board the Tiangong-1 space module lab, but will remain inside the spacecraft as a precautionary measure in case of emergency.

Previous reports said all three crew members would board the space module lab.

Orbiting about 400 km above the Earth's surface, the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, is in good condition, Qi said.

China launched the Tiangong-1 in September last year and completed the country's first-ever space docking with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in November.