Space ren­dezvous

Shen­zhou XI manned space­craft set to dock with space lab.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The Shen­zhou XI manned space­craft was sched­uled to dock with the Tian­gong II space lab in the early hours of Wed­nes­day morn­ing as as­tro­nauts start their busy, month­long sched­ule, the space au­thor­ity said.

After nearly two days of space­flight, the Shen­zhou XI will con­duct a com­puter-con­trolled dock­ing with the space lab. Then the two as­tro­nauts— 49-year-old Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old Chen Dong— will en­ter the lab and start the long­est space stay by Chi­nese as­tro­nauts, ac­cord­ing to the China Manned Space Agency.

Dur­ing their 30-day mis­sion in Tian­gong II, the as­tro­nauts will carry out sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments and re­search, in­clud­ing med­i­cal ul­tra­sound ex­am­i­na­tions, weight­less­ness ef­fects on car­dio­vas­cu­lar func­tions and cul­ti­va­tion of plants as well as in-or­bit re­pair, said Wu Ping, deputy di­rec­tor and spokes­woman for the agency.

The space lab, which was launched in mid-Septem­ber, car­ries 14 sci­en­tific and ex­per­i­men­tal pay­loads, such as the world’s first high-sen­si­tive gamma-ray burst de­tec­tor, which was code­vel­oped by en­gi­neers from China and the Euro­pean Space Agency, she added.

Huang Weifen, deputy re­search head at the As­tro­naut Cen­ter of China, said that com­pared with pre­vi­ous space jour­neys by Chi­nese as­tro­nauts, the Shen­zhou XI-Tian­gong II mis­sion will be the busiest be­cause sci­en­tists planned more than 40 ex­per­i­ments and tri­als for it.

She said that an in-or­bit brain-com­puter in­ter­ac­tion test will be per­formed dur­ing the mis­sion, aim­ing to ver­ify a fu­tur­is­tic tech­nol­ogy that will al­low as­tro­nauts to con­trol equip­ment with their thoughts rather than man­u­ally. This will be the first such ex­per­i­ment in the world.

“We hope that the mind­con­trol, eye-con­trol and ges­ture recog­ni­tion tech­nolo­gies will be ap­plied in our manned space station,” Huang said, re­fer­ring to a per­ma­nent space station that China plans to start build­ing in 2018 and put into ser­vice around 2022.

How­ever, be­fore the as­tro­nauts em­bark on their tasks, they must strive to over­come a host of dif­fi­cul­ties, ex­perts said.

“No mat­ter how re­al­is­tic the ground train­ing, it is dif­fi­cult to sim­u­late the real state of weight­less­ness in space,” said Wang Ya’nan, ed­i­tor-inchief of the Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine.

“For as­tro­nauts, they ex­pe­ri­ence a cer­tain pe­riod of full­ness in the head after the space­craft en­ters or­bit. They must get used to the weight­less­ness as soon as pos­si­ble.”

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