Wednesday, 3 October 2012

China's first space woman

China’s first female astronaut proved a major draw when she appeared at the 63rd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Naples, Italy, this week.

During the first of the Congress’ early morning Breaking News sessions on Wednesday (3 October), Liu Yang spoke about her mission and introduced a film showing highlights of the flight.

The 33-year-old became the first Chinese woman to fly in space when she and two male crew mates blasted off aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft in June of this year.

Two days later, the three taikonauts (the Chinese term for astronauts) hooked up with the already orbiting Tiangong 1 module, pulling off China's first-ever crewed space docking.

She said she was astonished by the beauty of Earth as seen from space, and that she was pleasantly surprised by the toy panda that had been left aboard Tiangong 1 by the ground crew.

An illustrated overview of the flight was given by Dr Zhaoyao Wang, Director of China’s Manned Space Agency, covering mission planning and implementation.

Dr Zhaoyao Wang speaking at IAC 2012.
He revealed that the Chinese space station is expected to be completed and fully operational around 2020 and said China intended to strengthen international exchange and cooperation in its future development and operation.

"During the operational phase, the Space Station will conduct long-term man-tended operations with the nominal status of three crew who will alternate every half year," he explained.

Dr Wang said that the construction phase would see intermittent visits and stays depending on mission requirements and that some EVAs would be performed.

Artist's impression showing elements of China's space station.
There will also be a cargo re-supply ship sent up to the orbiting complex between one and two times a year.

Asked about the possibility of a second mission, Liu Yang said that flight schedules were closely connected with the country’s development programme.

"The next mission will come soon, and whether I am selected or not, I am preparing all the time for the country’s selection," she said.

Lui Yang in Naples with her minder.
As well as on-going training, Yang said part of her work now involved sharing her experiences with others who have yet to make a spaceflight.

Another crewed Chinese mission (Shenzhou 10) to Tiangong 1 is planned for next year but the officials with the Chinese delegation said a date for launch had not yet been announced.

Lui Yang poses with Clive Simpson.
The above is one of a series of daily reports from the International Astronautical Congress 2012 held in Naples, Italy, written by Clive Simpson for the Paris-based International Astronautical Association (IAF) and first appearing on the IAF website