China successfully launched an experimental craft on Thursday paving the way for its first space station amid a blaze of national pride, bringing the growing Asian power closer to matching the U.S. and Russia with a long-term manned outpost in space.
The box car-sized Tiangong-1 module was shot into space from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert aboard a Long March 2FT1 rocket. It is to move into an orbit 350 kilometers above the Earth and conduct surveys of Chinese farmland using special cameras, along with experiments involving growing crystals in zero gravity.
China then plans to launch an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft to practice remote-controlled docking maneuvers with the module, possibly within the next few weeks. Two more missions, at least one of them manned, are to meet up with it next year for further practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month. The 8.5-ton module, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace-1,” is to stay aloft for two years, after which two other experimental modules are to be launched for additional tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.
Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff
Friday, September 30, 2011