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Chinese Astronauts Preparing for Return Tonight (EDT)-Update

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2012
Updated: 28-Jun-2012 09:25 AM

UPDATE:   Bob Christy's calculation of a projected landing time of 02:03 GMT June 29 (10:03 pm tonight EDT) and the undocking time for Shenzhou-9 have been added.

China's three-person Shenzhou-9 crew is preparing to return to Earth about 10:00 pm tonight, June 28, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), which will be 10:00 am June 29 Beijing time (or 02:00 GMT June 29).  

The crew was launched on June 16 and this is the longest of China's human space flight missions to date. 

China's space program takes place at a measured pace.   The first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, was launched in 2003 on Shenzhou-5.   Two years later China launched Shenzhou-6 with two astronauts.  The third mission, Shenzhou-7, took place three years after that, in 2008, with a three-person crew and the first Chinese spacewalk.   The current mission is the fourth to carry a crew.   Five other Shenzhou spacecraft have been launched without crews as test flights (Shenzhou 1-4, Shenzhou-8).  Shenzhou-6 was the longest mission until now, lasting five days.

Shenzhou-9 already has undocked from the Tiangong-1 space station module.  Liu Wang conducted a manual undocking according to China's Xinhua news service (in English).  One mission objective was to demonstrate manual docking and undocking as a test should automated systems fail.  The crew was launched on June 16 and docked with Tiangong-1 in automated mode two days later.   After spending several days adjusting to weightlessness, Liu Wang and mission commander Jing Haipeng reentered Shenzhou-9 and conducted preliminary tests in preparation for Liu Wang to perform a manual re-docking.   The third crew-member, Liu Yang, China's first woman astronaut, remained in Tiangong-1 during this exercise.  She has been in charge of biological and medical experiments.  Later, all three entered Shenzhou-9, undocked, and manually redocked.

Xinhua did not announce the time that Shenzhou-9 undocked from Tiangong-1, but said the crew had reentered the capsule at 6:00 am Beijing Time June 28 (6:00 pm June 27 EDT).  Bob Christy at said undocking was at 9:22 am Beijing time June 28 (01:22 GMT; 9:22 pm June 27 EDT) and calculates that landing will be at 02:03 GMT June 29 (10:03 pm tonight EDT).

Tiangong-1 will be boosted to a higher orbit until China is ready to launch the next crew, expected next year. 

Correction:  An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that one of the three crew remained on Tiangong-1 during the manual docking exercise, but all three were in Shenzhou-9 when the spacecraft separated from and then redocked with Tiangong-1.  It was during a preliminary test that two were in Shenzhou-9 and one remained in Tiangong-1;  the two vehicles remained docked together during that test.

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