Shenzhou 7 bringing Zhai Zhigang (翟志刚), Liu Boming (刘伯明) and Jing Haipeng (景海鹏) into space
Yesterday at 25 September at 21:10 CST Shenzhou 7 started into space. 3 astronauts are on board and the whole ride hopefully lasts 3 to 5 days. China plans to conduct its first spacewalk during this mission. This space mission features a number of firsts:
- First Chinese spacewalk
- First mission with 3 astronauts
So much for the simple facts.
What does Shenzhou 7 mean for Chinese spaceflight?
Some critics say China is doing nothing new. Everything they perform has been done before by NASA and Russia. While this is true, these people miss the point. Why do people take driving lessons before they are allowed on the road? Because they have to learn from the beginning. Same is true for the Chinese spaceflight. They have to learn how to do things first, later they can step on to the more advanced stuff.
The milestone on this Chinese space mission is clear. Perform a spacewalk. This is a necessary on the way to a manned space station which has been requested by the Chinese politicians. When they want to build a space station some astronauts will have to leave the divine vessel and tighten the nuts and bolts. If Shenzhou 7 goes well, we can see the proposed Chinese space station in 2010.
Will the Chinese reach the moon before the US?
Probably not. If the Chinese want to launch a Apollo style low tech mission, just go there and come back without any serious science, without a high end life support system, they might be able to do it. Although they do not have the heavy launch vehicle necessary to reach moon orbit at the moment. Such a vehicle can be built within years, the Chinese can still count on Russian support in exchange for money. However if they decide they want to make it proper and safe then there is no way China can reach our moon before the US, or NASA respectively, does. My personal guess is China wants to do it proper and the US will be first.
Does China need a manned space program?
The amount of science data returned useful for everyday life is small. But these missions have another purpose. China wants to show the world it is capable of doing great things. Investors now know there are some smart people within mainland China capable of bringing a sophisticated machine like a manned spacecraft into earth orbit. The conclusion is, research labs can be built on Chinese soil, well educated scientists are available in the Chinese workforce. This can drive the Chinese economy.
Also the Shenzhou program is very inspiring to young people. I guess a lot of kids plan a academic career in science just because they see it’s possible to get into space in China. A very inspiring move for the Chinese.
I hope everything goes well with Shenzhou 7, in a few days we can see the results. If You want to know more about the past and the future of Chinese spaceflight, check out my article about China in space.