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China Poised To Launch Manned Spaceship

By | September 8, 2008

      Chinese Taikonaut To Perform Spacewalk; This Will Be Third Chinese Manned Mission

      China will launch a manned Shenzhou-7 spaceship in a window of Sept. 25 – 30 on a mission in which one of three taikonauts aboard will perform a spacewalk that may be televised live, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

      That means the Chinese manned mission will occur just before the U.S. mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis to repair and refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope. (Please see separate story on new Atlantis launch date in this issue.)

      The third Chinese manned mission is just one more example of how the Sino space program is ascendant, just at a time when the U.S. space program faces formidable difficulties. (Please see separate story on NASA Administrator Michael Griffin’s grave and carefully considered concerns in this issue.)

      For example, NASA has been commanded to halt space shuttle flights by October 2010, even though the next-generation Orion-Ares spaceship and rocket system won’t be ready for manned flight before 2015.

      In that half-decade gap when the United States won’t have any manned space program, it won’t even be able to take one astronaut to low Earth orbit, such as a visit to the International Space Station. Rather, NASA will have to depend for space transport on Russia, a nation that recently has had severely strained relations with the United States over the Russian invasion of the now-independent democratic state of Georgia, and U.S. plans to construct a European Missile Defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

      Liftoff of the next Chinese manned space mission will be from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern Gansu Province, a China National Space Administration (CNSA) spokesman said Saturday.

      The crew is in training and demonstrated proficiency in the Shenzhou-7 systems, according to the space agency. The craft is about to be mated with the rocket.

      "All the major systems involved in the launching are now in the final preparation. The main tests for the spacecraft, the Long-March II-F rocket, suits for the space walk and a satellite accompanying the flight have also been finished," the CNSA spokesman said.

      In addition, the ground control system is fully prepared, including the launch site, the landing site, and the communication for observation and control, according to Xinhua.

      When one of the taikonauts emerges from the spaceship to execute the spacewalk, that will be seen in live broadcasts, thanks to cameras mounted in and outside the Shenzhou-7, according to Zhao Changxi, a senior scientist with the project, who was quoted by Xinhua.

      This might be a fairly short mission, since its main goal is the spacewalk, he said.

      Shenzhou-7 will be monitored by a new space tracking ship, adding to a similar vessel already in service.

      China is only the third nation to put humans into space on its own rocket and spaceship, after the former Soviet Union and United States.

      Thus far, China has conducted two successful manned missions, in 2003 and 2005.

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