After flying millions of kilometers in space for seven days and nights, the Shenzhou 3 spacecraft landed safely in central Inner Mongolia at 16:51 on April 1, 2002. When the capsule was opened, afternoon sunlight flooded onto the face of the dummy astronaut and all onlookers were overjoyed. The successful launch and recovery of the Shenzhou 3 marked another major step forward in China's manned space program.
The time for China to send its astronauts into space is just around the corner, envisioned Chinese space scientist Liang Sili. This academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) predicted that China might realize its dream well within the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2001-05). China will then become the third country, after the United States and Russia, to have manned space capability.
China plans to launch more than 30 satellites and several spaceships in the first five years of the new century. Since launching its first manmade satellite, Dongfanghong 1, in April 1970, China has sent 77 satellites into space, 50 made in China and 27 in other countries.
Manned space program
The manned space program is the largest project in China's space history, involving the most complicated systems and the most advanced technologies. The program consists of seven systems - the astronaut, spacecraft scientific application, manned spacecraft, carrier rocket, launching site, monitoring and control, and landing field systems. Each system is large and complicate and the manned spacecraft system, made up of three sections: orbital module, descent module and propulsion module, is the core part of the program.
When the Shenzhou 1 and Shenzhou 2 returned, their orbital modules remained in space, circling the Earth for at least six months, which made subsequent experiments possible. For financial reasons, such orbital modules can be of great use if China is merely able to develop small space labs in the future. Scientific experts said this is a unique feature and advantage of China's manned space program.
Following future success in sending a manned spacecraft into space, China will begin to experiment with space docking and then, based on its national strength, develop manned or unmanned space labs. Developing an independent space station is costly and difficult for an individual country to afford. Therefore, China will seek international cooperation if it plans to develop a space station. Space docking needs difficult technology, and China's spacecraft are now capable of serving as a space lifeboat.
An adviser in command of the Shenzhou 3 project, Wang Liheng has personally participated in the development, launch and recovery of the Shenzhou 1, Shenzhou 2 and Shenzhou 3. He said that, though unmanned, the Shenzhou 3 spacecraft is "technically suitable for astronauts." There were several technological breakthroughs in the Shenzhou 3 launch: A redundant control system and a launch escape system were added to the launch vehicle, which improved its reliability; the spacecraft was installed with complete escape and emergency life support systems for astronauts; and the number of payloads for scientific experiments was increased.
Wang said that as a backup to the key system and components of the launch vehicle, the redundant control system greatly improves the reliability of the launcher, while the escape system quickly separates the spacecraft from the rocket in case of emergency to ensure a safe return of the spacecraft and astronauts. The Shenzhou 3 mission tested a life support system, which was installed in the orbital and descent modules. It included a dummy installed with equipment that simulates the physiological activity parameters of an astronaut in space, including palpitation, blood pressure, breathing, metabolism and excretion. This life support system will provide necessary living conditions for astronauts in space. The mission also witnessed experiments on scientific subjects such as space life sciences, space materials, space environment detecting and Earth environment monitoring.
Wang also noted that the launch vehicle of the Shenzhou 3 did not carry any other satellite into space. On return of the spacecraft, its orbital module separated from its descent module and continued to encircle the Earth conducting scientific experiments. Also, the Shenzhou 3 did not carry any animals, because today's technology is advanced enough to use instruments to replace real life when simulating human physiological activities.
This Chinese space authoritative expert said China would advance its manned space program in three steps: First, China will send its astronauts into space and ensure their safe return. Second, it will develop a space lab. And finally, it will establish a permanent, manned space station. Meanwhile, China will closely follow the development of world manned space technology and make full use of it to expand the scope of experiments, reap more achievements and promote the sustained and sound development of China's space undertakings.
China will launch another spacecraft, the Shenzhou 4, before the end of this year, on another unmanned mission.
Space experiment achievements
Experimental instruments on the Shenzhou 3, which worked normally, have been safely brought back to earth by the spacecraft. They represent valuable specimens for Chinese scientists engaged in research of space science and applied technology.
After undergoing space travel, test-tube plant seedlings are growing at an encouraging speed. Ten days after their return, their growth speed was five to seven times that of normal.
Professor Liu Min, a leader of this experimental project and researcher with the CAS Institute of Genetics, said this was the first time for China to send test-tube seedlings of plants to be popularized in cultivation into space. Previously, recoverable satellites or spacecraft had carried only seeds. After returning from a space journey, these seedlings have grown 3 to 5 cm on average. Liu said that this indicates that the payload was successful, and that the spacecraft was equipped with a fairly complete life support system, wherein the temperature, lighting and air conditions can satisfy the needs of normal plant growth.
Liu said the grape, raspberry and orchid seedlings will be later planted in earth in a greenhouse. The grape seedlings will be grafted onto adult grapevines next spring, and are expected to bear fruit the next very year. Space plants refer to crops that underwent space experiments and passed appraisal of relevant government departments. "At present, Hebei, Gansu, Shandong and Sichuan provinces have large bases growing space vegetables," Liu said. China now grows 12 varieties of space plants, including wheat, rice, tomato, peppers and cucumber.
Liu also said that space travel shortens the breeding period to five years, compared to the 10-year period using conventional breeding technology. In addition, due to the high rate of genetic variation of plants, variant species favorable to humans can be quickly obtained. For instance, space cucumbers are now under large-scale cultivation. With a better taste, its per-unit yield is 20 percent higher than that of ordinary species, and has strong disease resistance.
Initial analysis indicates that significant progress was also achieved in the fields of space life sciences and space materials during the Shenzhou 3 flight mission. Experiments were conducted under unique space micro-gravity circumstances on space life and space material sciences, and important results that cannot be obtained on earth were achieved.
CAS scientists engaged in space science and application said the space life scientific research carried out on Shenzhou 3 included experiments on crystal growth of protein and other macromolecules in space and biological cell culture. The spacecraft carried a second-generation protein crystal device, which was independently developed by Chinese scientists and features two different protein crystallization means and dual-temperature control. Results achieved by the experiments are of great significance to the development and production of high-purity and highly effective biological products and to formula design of biomedicines.
In the research of biological cell culture, CAS scientists conducted experiments on the space culture of animal and plant cells with promising pharmaceutical potential, and micro-gravity effects on the proliferation, metabolism, synthesis and secretion of active substances of cells.
In space material research, explorations were made on the crystal growth of different materials in space and other related aspects.
The Shenzhou 3's orbital module is currently still circling the Earth. Among the payloads in the module is China's first image spectrograph with medium revolving power, which will undertake-multi-spectrum remote sensing tests on ocean, land and atmosphere. The spacecraft also carries a number of earth environment monitoring instruments, including a solar ultraviolet spectrograph, a solar constant monitor and an earth radiation monitor, to monitor the environment on the surface of the Earth and in the upper atmosphere. These instruments will work for about six months in space, together with the orbital module, undertaking tests and application research.
As early as 1968, China established a space medical engineering institute specializing in research on key technologies in relation to astronauts, including environment control and life support systems. It was also engaged in the selection and training of astronauts, design of space suits and the development of space food and drinks.
In the summer of 1970, China selected 19 astronautic candidates from more than 1,000 Air Force pilots. But the manned spacecraft program, as well as astronautic selection and training, were later suspended due to their huge costs. The focus of China's space program was then shifted to the development of resources, meteorological, communications and recoverable satellites.
China's manned space program was reinitiated in 1992, with 12 astronauts selected from among 2,000 college educated Air Force fighter pilots. Experts in charge of training said these future astronauts have a strong constitution, sound psychological quality and a spirit of dedication.
The training of the astronauts, who are stationed in the suburbs of Beijing, includes the study of basic theories and the training of professional skills and specific tasks. Their training covers both physical and psychological aspects.
To test the escape system of the Shenzhou 3, astronauts came to the Jiuquan Launch Center, the first time they have been exposed to the spotlight. Qin Wenbo, Deputy Commander in Chief of the launch, said these astronauts took just five seconds to flee danger in the ground escape system test.
"They have very good psychological qualities," said Qin, who predicted that two or three of them would become China's first astronauts in space.
The astronauts are now in their final stages of training, noted Su Shuangning, Commander in Chief and chief designer of China's astronaut program. "In the near future, they will be totally capable of entering space."
Experts noted that the success rate for China carrier rockets and spacecraft has reached 97 percent, and that the remaining 3 percent can be guaranteed with the advanced escape system, ensuring 100 percent safety for Chinese astronauts.
Features of Shenzhou 3
The Shenzhou 3 was installed with metabolic simulation apparatus, human physical monitoring sensors and a dummy astronaut, which simulated and determined physiological activity parameters of an astronaut in space.
Its launch witnessed the first test on a launch escape system which, in case of an emergency occurring during liftoff, functions to bring the spacecraft out of danger, ensuring the safety of astronauts.