Per­ma­nent sta­tion’s fu­ture rides on voy­age

Na­tion awaits as­tro­nauts’ ar­rival at Tian­gong II lab for a 30-day stay

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAOLEI in Bei­jing zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cnh

As a Chi­nese space­ship rock­ets through the void to­ward a ren­dezvous with a new Chi­nese space lab, ex­perts say a mon­u­men­tal step in the na­tion’s long march in space ex­plo­ration is about to oc­cur.

On Mon­day morn­ing, China’s Shen­zhou XI manned space­craft was sent sky­ward atop a Long March 2F rocket that thun­dered away from the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in north­west China.

Shen­zhou XI car­ries two male as­tro­nauts — 49-year-old Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old Chen Dong. After a two-day jour­ney, they are to dock with and spend 30 days liv­ing and work­ing in Tian­gong II, a new Chi­nese space lab. It will be dou­ble the long­est stay by Chi­nese as­tro­nauts in space.

Tian­gong II was launched in mid-Septem­ber to re­place the Tian­gong I space lab, after the lat­ter was re­tired in March ac­cord­ing to plan.

But even more im­por­tant than the length of stay, the mis­sion is a gi­ant step to­ward China hav­ing a per­ma­nent space sta­tion. Not only that, it’s a sta­tion that ex­perts said is likely to be the world’s only one after the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion is re­tired around 2024.

The Shen­zhou XI-Tian­gong II mis­sion is a sign of China’s full readi­ness for a space sta­tion, ac­cord­ing to Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Zhang Yulin, deputy head of the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion’s Equip­ment De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment and the manned space pro­gram.

Once the sta­tion is put into use, China will launch “sev­eral space mis­sions” each year to trans­port as­tro­nauts, en­gi­neers and even tourists to it, Zhang said.

“Tian­gong is a pre­cur­sor test­bed of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, build­ing to­ward the large space sta­tion has al­ways been the cul­mi­nat­ing goal of the Shen­zhou pro­gram,” said Joan John­son-Freese, a pro­fes­sor at the Naval War Col­lege spe­cial­iz­ing in space pro­grams and space se­cu­rity, in a CNN re­port.

John­son-Freese said if the US does not change its poli­cies very soon and be­gin to work with China in space, it will lose what­ever lever­age it might have in shap­ing Chi­nese space plans for the fu­ture.

As Chi­nese across the na­tion raptly watched the new step into the heav­ens, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping sent a con­grat­u­la­tion mes­sage from the In­dian state Goa where he was at­tend­ing a sum­mit of the emerg­ing-mar­ket coun­tries over the week­end.

Premier Li Ke­qiang and other high-rank­ing of­fi­cials watched the start of the space mis­sion from the head­quar­ters of China Manned Space Agency in Bei­jing.

As part of the cur­rent mis­sion, the Shen­zhou XI-Tian­gong II com­bi­na­tion will test ren­dezvous and dock­ing tech­nolo­gies, ver­ify the life-sup­port ca­pa­bil­ity of the space­craft-space lab com­bi­na­tion, con­duct re­search and test en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­i­ments, ac­cord­ing to Wu Ping, deputy di­rec­tor of the China Manned Space Agency.

The jour­ney’s most im­por­tant task is to ex­am­ine China’s tech­nolo­gies and equip­ment to sup­port long-term stays in space and to ob­serve the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects on as­tro­nauts, ex­plained Shi Yong, a se­nior de­signer of manned space­craft at the China Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy.

He said Jing and Chen will use a tread­mill, ex­er­cise bike and other equip­ment in Tian­gong II to keep fit, and they will also wear a spe­cial uni­form to avoid mus­cle atro­phy.

Zhang Bo­nan, chief de­signer of Shen­zhou XI at China Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy, said the rea­son the space­craft is car­ry­ing two as­tro­nauts in­stead of three like its pre­de­ces­sor, the Shen­zhou X, is that the space­craft and space lab have a lim­ited ac­com­mo­da­tion ca­pac­ity. Also, the as­tro­nauts’ du­ra­tion in space is longer.

The Tian­gong II’s life-sup­port sys­tem does not use re­cy­cling tech­nolo­gies, which lim­its the num­ber of as­tro­nauts, he said, although fu­ture ad­di­tions to the space sta­tion will in­clude such tech­nolo­gies.

JU ZHENHUA / XIN­HUA

As­tro­nauts Jing Haipeng (right) and Chen Dong salute in­side the space­craft at the mo­ment of its launch­ing on Mon­day.

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