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UPDATED: June 25, 2012 NO. 26 JUNE 28, 2012
A Further Step Into Space
The manned Shenzhou-9 takes the first Chinese woman into space and showcases space-docking technologies
By Yin Pumin

Liu's presence did bring a set of adjustments to the country's space program.

"We developed a new series of spacesuits for female astronauts," Li Tanqiu, Deputy Chief Designer for the Astronaut System Department of China's Manned Space Program, told Xinhua News Agency.

Li said that the new suit fits well and will enable swift movements, especially of the fingers. Besides spacesuits, astronauts brought special underwear and sports suits.

In addition, two sets of physical exercise training suits had already been placed in the Tiangong-1. There is also a curtain installed in the Tiangong-1 to protect astronauts' privacy when they are changing clothes, Li said.

Meanwhile, female and male astronauts will use separate toilets and sleep in two separate cabins in the 15-square-meter lab of the Tiangong-1, and women are allowed to take nontoxic and contamination-free cosmetics into space.

"Astronauts rely on good food to focus on work," Chen said. For female astronauts, Chen's fellow crew have introduced low-fat food and added more vegetables to the menu, which also features desserts, chocolate and food with blood-enriching effects.

For this 13-day mission, the spaceship is stocked with over 50 kinds of food on a menu that rotates every four days, Chen said.

"The involvement of female astronauts could showcase Chinese women's good image and further promote the social influence of the country's manned space program," Wu said.

Manned docking

The manual docking is considered the most significant part of the Shenzhou-9 mission.

"This is a new technology providing new means for space docking to guarantee the success of future missions," said Zhou Jianping, Chief Designer of China's manned space program, before the launch of the Shenzhou-9.

Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on China's space program at the U.S. Naval War College on Rhode Island, said it would be a step forward for China if the manual docking proved successful.

"China has already demonstrated docking technology robotics, so doing it manually this time is just another incremental step forward, with a robotic back-up for safety," she told Xinhua.

According to both Chinese and foreign space experts, a successful docking remains a difficult procedure.

Precise control is needed to ensure a safe contact between two objects running at speeds between 7.9 km per second (kmps) and 11.2 kmps.

During the manual docking process, the main risks involve challenges to the optical sensors used for the docking of the craft.

But as observed by Pat Norris, Chairman of the British Royal Aeronautical Society Space Group, China has taken a prudent course of verifying new space technology in robotic flights before applying it to human space missions.

He referred to last November's unmanned Shenzhou-8 mission to test docking technologies, as well as four unmanned missions that took place before the launch of the manned Shenzhou-5 spacecraft, which took the first Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei into space in October 2003.

To succeed in the manned docking mission, Chinese astronauts have been trained more than 1,000 times for every single move before they are commissioned for the program, compared with 900 to 1,000 times in Russia.

"We need to make astronauts' operational moves habitual," Chen said. "Manual control is the back-up measure for robotic control. It will be safer with human participation."

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