Monday, 25 June 2012

China's Space Age Grows Up As U.S. Space Race Winds Down

The Russians started the space race back in the 1950s.

This picture taken on June 12, 2012 shows Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force fighter pilot Liu Yang (L) together with her two male colleagues, Jing Haipeng (C) and Liu Wang (R), in their spacesuits as they pose for an official photo at the Jiuquan space base, north China's Gansu province. China said on June 15, 2012 that a female astronaut will be among the three-person team on board the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, and will take off at 6.37 pm (1037 GMT) on June 16 from the Jiuquan space base in the Gobi desert for the country's fourth manned space launch, with Liu Yang, 33, and two male astronauts on board. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

Find out all about the crew of Shenzhou 9, including China's first female astronaut, in this SPACE.com infographic.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

The U.S. perfect it with putting a man on the moon, then with a series of modern high tech space shuttle missions and Mars ROVERS.  But now, the final frontier captains are more likely to be Russians, with their hopes for a human Mars landing someday, or Chinese, with a new China space station due within the next 8 years.

While the U.S. has basically scrapped its space mission, slashing the budget of NASA and now too close to a fiscal cliff to invest in fly-by-night government funded manned space operations, China is on the move.

The country’s Shenzhou IX spacecraft, carrying two male astronauts and one female astronaut into space this week, completed its first-ever manual docking with the Tiangong I space lab on Sunday.  The manual docking of two ships whipping through space ultimately demonstrates China’s grasp of essential space rendezvous and docking know-how. Manual docking requires astronauts to have a precise judgement on the relative distance between Shenzhou IX and the Tiangong-1 module, a challenge to their capability of coordination, accuracy and psychological stability. The astronauts have done more than 1,500 docking simulations on the ground to ensure a successful manual docking.

Their successful completion of the docking mission at 12:47 pm local time on Sunday means China is fully capable of transferring humans and cargo to an orbiter in space much like the Americans, only the Americans have abandoned further work in this area beyond the current International Space Station expedition which ends next month. That current mission is actually being commanded by Oleg Dmitrievich Komonenko, a Russian national born in Turkmenistan.  He’s one of three Russians on the Russian Proton vesssel, with two Americans and one astronaut from The Netherlands.

China’s three astronauts boarded Tiangong through Shenzhou IX where they will continued conducting various scientific experiments on the space lab before heading returning.

By Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes Contributor
Covering Brazil, Russia, India & China.

See: Will China Blast Past America In Space? — National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation”

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