Chinese Manual Docking Successful; Chinese Human Spaceflight Budget Revealed
Three Chinese astronauts in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft successfully accomplished a manual docking with the Tiangong-1 space station. This is the first manual docking of a Chinese crew with a space station; the first docking, on Monday, was accomplished in automated mode. China also revealed how much the Shenzhou program has cost overall.
Liu Wang was at the controls as Shenzhou-9 undocked from Tiangong-1, moved 140 meters away, and then redocked. China's English-language CCTV has video of the operation. The crew undocked from Tiangong-1 and about an hour and a half later, at 12:42 pm Beijing time (12:42 am Eastern Daylight Time), began the manual docking. It took 7 minutes, "3 minutes faster than the automated system" according to China's Xinhua news service (in English).
The crew will now re-occupy Tiangong-1 and remain until Friday, when they will return to Earth. The mission is commanded by Jing Haipeng. The third crewmember is Liu Yang, China's first woman astronaut, who is in charge of the medical and biological scientific experiments.
Xinhua quoted Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's human spaceflight program, as saying that China's budget for the rendezvous and docking missions Shenzhou-7 through Shenzhou-10 is "19 billion yuan (3 billion U.S. dollars)" and China spent "another 20 billion yuan on manned space missions carried out by Shenzhou-6 and previous spaceships" since the human spaceflight program began in 1992. It is not clear is the 19 billion yuan includes the Tiangong-1 module.
Shenzhou 1 through Shenzhou 4 were automated tests that did not carry crews. Shenzhou-5, in 2003, was China's first human spaceflight, with one crew member. Shenzhou-6 carried two crew members in 2005. Shenzhou-7 in 2008 carried three crew, one of whom performed a short spacewalk. Shenzhou-8 was an automated rendezvous and docking test with the Tiangong-1 module -- no crew was aboard either craft. Shenzhou-9 is the mission now underway. Shenzhou-10 is planned for next year, probably with another three-person crew.
China plans to build a larger, 60-metric-ton, space station later in the decade. Tiangong-1 is only 8.6 metric tons. By comparison, the International Space Station is 400 metric tons.
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