Shenzhou-9 Crew Docks and Enters Chinese Spacelab

by Nancy Atkinson on June 18, 2012

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The crew of the Chinese Shenzhou-9 spacecraft docked today with the Tiangong-1 mini-spacelab and the three taikonauts entered the small spacelab for the first time. China becomes only the third nation to have a manned craft rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft, behind the U.S. and Russia. Commander Jing Haipeng led the crew into the lab, followed by Liu Wang and then later Liu Yang, China’s first female taikonaut. The Shenzhou capsule completed the docking maneuvers shortly after 0600 UTC (2 am EDT). The two spacecraft are about 343 kilometers (213 miles) above Earth. The docking was shown live on national television.

This docking was automated and monitored by China’s mission control. A manual docking by the crew will be done later in the mission.

The docking video is below.


Astronauts will live and work in the module for several days doing medical experiments along with studies of live butterflies, butterfly eggs and pupae. This first mission is just the beginning of China’s preparations for having a permanently manned space station, which they hope to have built by 2020. The new space station will weigh about 60 tons and be about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station, and just slightly smaller than NASA’s Skylab that was operational in the 1970s.

The 8.5 ton Tiangong 1 is designed to stay in space for at least 2 years and support crews of up to three astronauts for short duration stays. One more manned mission is planned to visit, Shenzhou 10.

China has only cooperated in a limited fashion with other nations and is excluded from the ISS, mainly due to objections from the United States.

China launched their first taikonaut into space in 2003, had a two-man mission and in 2005, with three taikonauts flying to space in 2008, a mission that featured the country’s first spacewalk.

Today’s docking and entrance into Tiangong-1 with a female taikonaut coincides with the anniversary of the first American woman into space. Sally Ride flew on STS-7 on this date in 1983.

Sources: Time, SpaceRef

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

hionthemountain June 18, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Hoorah !! for the Communist . !!

squidgeny June 18, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Which one?

SJStar June 19, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Boo! Seriously, could you be anymore obnoxious?

hionthemountain June 19, 2012 at 10:17 AM

pissoff

Aqua4U June 18, 2012 at 8:29 PM

Not too shabby! That place looks livable.. compact but livable. It looks definitely larger than the rental pod/modules in some Tokyo ‘hotels’. I like the trampoline thang they were bouncing off. Is that for zero gee orgies? Clever Chinese….

Aqua4U June 18, 2012 at 8:35 PM

That comment about the ‘key’ they have to turn to open the hatch into the space station is very interesting. WHO do they think would visit? The docking port supposedly allows docking with ISS components. You’d think they’d appreciate a Dragon dropping by?

Aqua4U June 18, 2012 at 8:42 PM

The comment about differing voltages between space craft and station due to ‘technical reasons’ sounded rather vague. Hmmm…

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