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