Chinese Astronauts Preparing for Return Tonight (EDT)-Update
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 zarya.info 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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