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China's Human Spaceflight Program: Background and List of Launches

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2013
Updated: 12-Jun-2013 09:28 AM

China's human spaceflight program, Project 921, officially began in 1992. The launch of Shenzhou-10 today is the tenth flight in the series, but only the fifth to carry a crew.

Shenzhou 1-4 were automated tests of the spacecraft; Shenzhou-8 was an automated test of rendezvous and docking procedures with the Tiangong-1 space station. 

Tiangong-1 itself was launched in 2011.  It first hosted a crew with Shenzhou-9 and now awaits the crew of Shenzhou-10.   The following table provides information on the five Chinese human spaceflight missions with crews launched to date.  (A SpacePolicyOnline.com list of ALL Chinese human spaceflight launches, including the automated flights, is also available.) Chinese astronauts are often called "taikonauts" in the West.  English-language Chinese reports call them astronauts.

 

Mission Launch Date Crew Comments
Shenzhou-5 Oct. 15, 2003 Yang Liwei First Chinese human spaceflight mission;
21 hours, 23 min
Shenzhou-6 Oct. 12, 2005 Fei Junlong
Nie Haisheng
First Chinese 2-person crew;
5 day mission
Shenzhou-7 Sept. 25, 2008 Zhai Zhigang
Liu Boming
Jing Haipeng

First Chinese 3-person crew;
First Chinese spacewalk (by Zhai for 22 min, Liu
also did stand-up EVA in airlock for about 2 min)
3 day mission
Small (40 kg) subsatellite ejected

Shenzhou-9

July 16, 2012  

Jing Haipeng
Liu Wang
Liu Yang

Automatic and manual docking with Tiangong-1
First Chinese space station crew            
Liu Yang first Chinese woman astronaut
13 day mission

 Shenzhou-10  June 11, 2013

Nie Haisheng
Zhang Xiaoguang
Wang Yaping

Planned 15 day mission includes docking with Tiangong-1;
conduct manual docking test, various experiments.
Wang second Chinese women in space. China calls her
their first teacher in space because she will give a physics
lecture from space, but she is a transport aircraft pilot, not a
teacher, by training.

The Tiangong-1 space station is a small (8.6 metric ton) module.   As first space stations go, it is rather modest -- just less than half the mass of the world's first space station, Salyut 1. Launched in 1971, it had a mass of about 18.6 metric tons. The first U.S. space station, Skylab, launched in 1973, had a mass of about 77 metric tons. Today's International Space Station (ISS), a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada, has a mass of about 400 metric tons and has been permanently occupied by 2-6 person crews rotating on 4-6 month missions since the year 2000.


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