The first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang, and two male colleagues are on their way to dock with an orbiting module and work on board for more than a week. The Shenzhou 9 capsule lifted off as scheduled at 6:37 p.m. (1237 GMT) evening from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the Gobi Desert. All systems functioned as expected and just about 10 minutes later, it opened its solar panels and entered orbit.
Female astronaut Liu Yang, 33, and two male crew members veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang are to dock the spacecraft with a prototype space lab launched last year in a key step to build a permanent space station. Two of the astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems while the third will remain in the capsule to deal with any unexpected emergencies. China is hoping to join the United States and Russia as the only countries to send independently maintained space stations into orbit. It is already one of just three nations to have launched manned spacecraft on their own.
Plan is on the way for another manned mission to the module later this year, meanwhile possible future missions could also include sending a man to the moon. The program is a source of enormous Chinese national pride to reflect its rapid economic and technological progress and ambition to rank among the world’s leading nations. The Chinese module, called Tiangong 1, is a prototype, and the plan is to replace it with a larger permanent space station due for completion in 2020.
That station which weighs about 60 tons, slightly smaller than NASA’s Skylab in the 1970s is about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station. China has only limited cooperation in space with other nations and its exclusion from the ISS, largely on objections from the United States, was one of the key spurs for it to pursue an independent space program since the last 20 years.
China launched the first time a man into space in 2003 followed in 2005 by a two-man mission and then a three-man trip in 2008 which featured the China’s first space walk. In November 2011, the “unmanned” Shenzhou 8 successfully docked twice with Tiangong1 by a remote control.
FRANCIS TAWIAH (Duisburg – Germany)