Chinese Astronauts Manually Dock Spacecraft at Orbiting Module in National First
|This still from a CNTV bradcast shows the view from a camera aboard China's Shenzhou 9 space capsule shows the spacecraft just after it was manually docked to the Tiangong 1 space lab by astronaut Liu Wang on June 24, 2012. |
Three Chinese astronauts manually docked their space capsule at an orbiting module Sunday (June 24), a major first for China's space program and the country's plans to build a large space station.
The astronauts docked their Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with the unmanned Tiangong 1 module 213 miles (343 kilometers) above Earth. It was the second orbital linkup in a week for the two spacecraft, which performed China's first automated space docking June 18.
Shenzhou 9's astronauts Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang — who is China's first female astronaut — are the fourth Chinese crew to fly in space. The astronauts launched into orbit on June 16, atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's northern Gansu province.
Tiangong 1 has been in orbit since September 2011, and was part of China's first robotic docking with the unmanned Shenzhou 8 capsule in November. The Shenzhou 9 crew made their first docking with Tiangong 1 June 18, marking the first time a manned Chinese spacecraft has docked with another vehicle in orbit. [Shenzhou 9: China's 1st Manned Space Docking (Pictures)]
CREDIT: China Manned Space Engineering
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Earlier today, the astronauts undocked the two spacecraft and flew Shenzhou 9 about 1,300 feet (400 meters) away. They then maneuvered their capsule by hand, with Liu Wang at the helm, back into docking configuration with Tiangong 1 at 12:48 p.m. China Standard Time, or 12:48 a.m. EDT (0448 GMT).
"The success of the manual rendezvous and docking mission represents another important phase achievement of the Shenzhou 9 and Tiangong 1 rendezvous and docking mission," Wu Ping, spokeswoman of the China Manned Space Program, said during a press briefing following the docking. "The three astronauts will once again enter the orbiting module of Tiangong 1 to carry out scientific experiments."
The mission's docking maneuvers are a milestone in the development of China's manned space program, which flew its first astronaut in space in 2003. Tiangong 1 (which means "Heavenly Palace" in Chinese) is a prototype for China's first manned space station, which officials say will be functional by 2020.
China is the third country after Russia and the United States to fly astronauts into space.
After today's docking, the Shenzhou 9 astronauts (known as taikonauts) received a message from a group of Chinese oceanauts who are setting records not above the ground but below it.
"We wish for a great success of the manual docking and brilliant achievements in China's manned space and manned deep-sea dive causes," read a message sent by three crewmembers aboard the Chinese submersible Jiaolong, 7,015 meters (23,000 feet) beneath the Pacific Ocean in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth, state-run newspaper Xinhua reported.
The oceanaut crew set a new deep-diving record for China on June 22.
Shenzhou 9 and Tiangong 1 are due to stay connected for four more days, with the crew departing June 28 and landing back on Earth June 29.
By Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor
Play VideoDate: 24 June 2012 Time: 08:08 AM ET
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China marks first manned space docking
Ten meters, five meters, three.
It was a moment astronaut Liu Wang had practiced for, more than 1.500 times. And he knew he could do it.
|Photo taken on June 24, 2012 shows the screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center showing Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft parting from the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab to prepare for the country's first manual space docking. The spacecraft and the space lab were joined together by an automated docking on June 18. (Xinhua/Zha Chunming)|
Liu said, "I’m 100% sure of a successfully operation. Because I can’t fail."
Dubbed the "space needle threading" mission, the astronauts had to carefully adjust the craft’s trajectory with very little margin for error.
It all culminated in the historic moment.
Shenzhou-9’s docking ring makes contact with the Tiangong-1 and a tight seal is formed as the connection between the craft is secured.
It was even more accurate than the first automated docking of Shenzhou-9 and Tiangong-1.
The State Council Information office then announced the success of the mission.
Wu Ping, spokeswoman for State Council Information Office said, "I can announce that the first Chinese manned docking of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and the Tiangong-1 space lab module has been successfully completed."
A big success, but it’s not over yet.
After the docking, the astronauts entered Tiangong-1 for another four days of experiments.
Following this, they’ll return to Shenzhou-9’s re-entry module, to prepare for the journey back to earth.
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China's Jiaolong sets new deep sea dive record
Good news came as the crew of the Jiaolong submersible surpassed the country’s dive record by going deeper than 7,000 meters after a successful test dive in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday morning.
A record breaking moment.
Jiaolong, China’s manned submersible successfully completed a dive of 7,015 meters below sea level at around 11 am local time, 8:55 am Beijing time. It’s the craft’s fourth dive into the Mariana Trench.
|China's manned submersible Jiaolong is put into water to make the fourth dive into the sea at the Mariana Trench on June 24, 2012. Chinese scientists refreshed the country's dive record in a manned submersible by going to 7,000 meters beneath the sea after a successful test dive in the Pacific Ocean Sunday morning. The Jiaolong, China's manned submersible named after a mythical sea dragon, succeeded in diving 7,015 meters below sea level at 11 a.m. local time during its fourth dive into the Mariana Trench. Three oceanauts conducted the dive, which started at 7 a.m. local time in heavy rain. (Xinhua/Luo Sha)|
The submersible then went on to finally reach a maximum depth of 7,020 meters below sea level.
The three oceanauts sent greetings from the bottom of the deep blue sea to the three astronauts in outer space, who were about to carry out their manual docking of Shenzhou-9 with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module.
"We wish the Shenzhou-9 crew success with the manual docking and great achievements for China’s manned space and deep-sea dive missions."
Various samples and video footage have been taken during the deep sea mission to benefit future scientific research.
Jiaolong returned safely on Sunday afternoon.
- Chinese astronauts, in space, cheer China's success in deep ocean 2012-06-24
- Chinese submersible refreshes national dive record by 7,020 meters
by Bill Savadove
This file photo, taken in 2011, shows the Chinese submersible 'Jiaolong.' The submersible broke through the 7,000-metre mark in an ocean dive on Sunday, state media said, setting a new national record for China.
A manned Chinese submersible broke through the 7,000-metre mark for a new national record on Sunday, state media said, as the rising Asian nation showed off its technological might.
The "Jiaolong" craft dived 7,015 metres (23,015 feet) in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean on its fourth dive since arriving in the area earlier this month, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The dive came on the same day as China was attempting its first manual space docking, a complex manoeuvre that will bring the country a step closer to building a space station.
"This (dive) shows the performance of the submersible is stable," mission chief commander Liu Feng told state television in a live broadcast from aboard the ship supporting the submersible.
"The level of our technical personnel is getting better and better."
The Jiaolong -- named after a dragon from Chinese mythology -- carried three people into the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the world.
Applause broke out as a depth gauge aboard the supporting ship Xiangyanghong registered more than 7,000 metres, state television showed.
The same submersible reached 5,188 metres in a Pacific dive in July last year. And in a series of three previous dives since June 15, the craft has gone deeper each time. Experts say 7,000 metres is the limit of its design.
Experts say China intends to use the submersible for scientific research, such as collecting samples of undersea life and studying geological structures, as well as future development of mineral resources.
On its third dive on Friday, the crew collected samples of water and sediment and took photos of sea life, Xinhua said.
Scientists say the ocean floors contain rich deposits of potentially valuable minerals, but the extreme depths pose technical difficulties in harvesting them on a large scale.
And the stability and durability of the craft presents further problems for future operations.
The recent round of dives have seen some minor technical glitches, such as the breakdown of communications equipment and problems with the adjustable ballast system, state media has reported.
The 7,000 metre dive was previously scheduled for Monday, state media had reported. The reasons for the change of date were unclear but mean the record-setting dive comes the same day as China's landmark space manoeuvre.
(c) 2012 AFP
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