China yesterday launched its latest manned mission into space yesterday carrying 3 astronauts to their orbiting space laboratory, Tiangong-1.
The crew, two men and a woman, were lofted aboard a Long March 2F rocket today (Saturday 16th June) on schedule at 18:37 Beijing time (10:37 GMT, 11:37 BST).
The 3 crew members consist of:
Jing Haipeng, born in 1966 and Shenzhou-9´s commander.
Prior to becoming an astronaut, he was a fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force for 8 years.
Liu Wang, 42, served in the PLA for 6 years. With 1,000 hours of flying time.
Liu Yang, born in October 1978, China´s first female astronaut .
She has served in the PLA for 9 years, with 1,680 hours of flying time.
In 2010, she became a member of the second generation of Chinese astronauts.
The successful launch of Shenzhou-9 continues the incremental achievements China has made since the launch of the first Chinese astronaut into space in October 2003.
The Beijing command and control centre, over 1,600 km from the Jiuquan satellite launch centre, monitored the closing stages of the pre-flight and launch. The launch appeared to go flawlessly.
The Shenzhou-9 and its Long March 2F rocket were mated on the 7th June, and the final transfer to the launch pad occurred on 9th June.
Prior to launch, the Long March 2F is completely cocooned by its launch gantry. Around 45 minutes prior to launch the launch gantry was slowly removed from the lower section of the rocket, and then as the countdown nears completion, is retracted from the manned capsule segment.
The internal capsule view is very reminiscient of a Soyuz, with the 3 astronauts strapped into fairly cramped quarters. As the astronauts sit quite a way from the control panel, the Chinese have employed a similar mechanism to the Russians, with the introduction of a large metal pole that allows the pilot to press the appropriate button.
The Long March 2F rocket launched on time at 18:37 Beijing time and climbed effortlessly into a clear blue Chinese sky.
Apart from the initial launch fumes at the pad, which appeared a muddy brown, there was no characteristic launch plume showing its journey towards the heavens.
The Tiangong-1 laboratory is currently orbiting 343 km above the Earth in a circular orbit inclined at around 42 degrees.
Docking of the Shenzhou 9 capsule carrying the 3 Chinese astronauts, to the Tiangong-1 orbital laboratory is scheduled to occur at 15:00 Beijing time (07:00 GMT/UTC, 08:00 BST) on Monday 17th June.