Science

China to blast second woman into space

By James Maynard , Jun 10, 2013 10:26 PM EDT
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China will send a three-person crew to an experimental orbiting space laboratory on June 11. This flight crew will include Wang Yaping, who will become China's second female astronaut.

Shenzhou 10 will take off at 5:38 p.m. local time, which is 5:38 a.m. on the U.S. east coast. The Long March rocket will launch from a remote site in the Gobi desert in western China. This launch will also mark the tenth anniversary of China sending its first man into space, Yang Liwei, aboard Shenzhou 5, in 2003.

The flight will head to the Tiangong 1 laboratory module, whose name means Heavenly Palace. The laboratory has been moved to a docking orbit, ready to receive the new visitors. Shenzhou translates as Divine Vessel.

The trio of space travelers will conduct experiments while in orbit, run tests on the module itself, and conduct a lecture for students through a classroom telecast.

"They will carry out aerospace medical experiments and space technology experiments," Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space program, said.

This will be the fifth human space mission for China since 2003. In addition to Wang, Nie Haisheng will be mission commander and Zhang Xiaoguang rounds out the three-person crew.

The current 15-day mission to the orbiting laboratory will be the country's longest space trip yet. the experiments to be performed will also be more complicated than those conducted by the crew of Shenzhou 9. That 13-day mission launched in June, 2012, bringing with it China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang. She became a national hero upon her return.

The increasing ability of the Chinese space program to send people and machines into space builds the prestige of a once-destitute country. It seems that the Chinese program is learning some things from NASA, building public support for space exploration through the use of public celebrities and live talks from high above the Earth.

"China is in space for the long haul. The US ignoring that and refusing to work with China will neither stop them nor slow them down," Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on the Chinese space program at the US Naval War College, said.

The Tiangong 1 will test technologies to build and launch a space station in the next seven years. After a decade of launching people into space, the Chinese space agency has also announced plans to launch an unmanned rover to the Moon later this year. Sending people to the lunar surface is also in the space agency's sights, but not until after the year 2020.

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