16 June 2012

Making History in the Heavens: Liu Yang Becomes 1st Female Chinese Astronaut in Orbit as 3-Person Shenzhou-9 Mission Heads for Docking with Tiangong-1 Space Laboratory Module

An inspiring achievement!

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pilot Liu Yang, with colleagues Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 10:37:24 UTC on 16 June 2012 by a Long March 2F “carrier rocket” on the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, which will dock with China’s Tiangong-1 (天宫一号) space laboratory module. The module will be used to practice rendezvous and docking capabilities need to support larger follow-on Tiangong-2 and -3 modules as China works to deploy a larger space station complex over time.

China is clearly prioritizing space development and working at its own pace to gradually make major accomplishments in the field. Some observers note that Chinese space achievements come years, even decades, after similar Soviet and American milestones. But China’s careful, sustainable approach cannot be compared to some early Soviet “firsts,” which took safety shortcuts in order to achieve politically-timed space spectaculars. By working on its own terms, on its own time, Beijing is building for the future. And it has an economy to fund development long-term that the USSR never did. Meanwhile, unlike the U.S. at the present moment, China has an indigenous means to send its astronauts to orbit–and it is using it with great effect.

Many further Chinese space achievements promise to follow, and it will all be very interesting to watch. While piloted space flight typically lacks the scientific substance or military significance of unmanned activities, it can inspire a nation and capture the imagination of people around the world. Beijing’s constantly-unfolding accomplishments in this field are sure draw even more attention to its scientific and technological progress and to raise questions in other capitals as to why they are not presently able or willing to launch their own astronauts into space.

Click here for details on the Shenzhou 9 mission.

Click here to watch a video of Shenzhou 9’s launch.