China Details Up-Coming Tiangong-1 Mission; Stresses International Cooperation

**Update: The Tiangong-1 succesfully launched at 9:16 p.m. Beijing Time (9:16 am EDT) Thursday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center**

At a news conference yesterday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, spokeswoman Wu Ping provided more detail on the up-coming Tiangong-1 space module mission, scheduled for launch Thursday night, local time. It is the first time China has provided such detail about a mission, before its launch.

The main purpose of this mission is to carry out the first rendezvous and docking of two Chinese spacecraft in Earth orbit. This capability is prerequisite to assembling a full-sized space station, which China plans to do at the end of this decade. Wu stated that about a month after Tiangong-1 enters low Earth orbit, the unmanned Shenzhou-8 craft will dock with it. Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 will fly together for about 12 days, she said, and will conduct a second docking test an an "appropriate time." Then Shenzhou-8 will return to Earth.

Tiangong-1 will then stay in orbit, and wait for the Shenzhou-9 craft to arrive for docking. If Shenzhou-8 was successful, number 9 will be manned. Shenzhou 10 is also planned for a manned docking with Tiangong-1. Wu said the astronaut for this mission has been selected and is in training (although that would also be the case for Shenzhou-9, which she apparently didn't mention, and one would expect more than one crew member on each mission). The crews of those missions will spend a few days or so in Tiangong-1 doing experiments and testing all the systems.

On international cooperation, Wu reported that Tiangong-1 will carry in to orbit 300 flags of the International Astronautical Federation, whose annual Congress starts October 1, in Cape Town. Scientists from Germany will join those from China in experiments that will be carried out on the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft. There has been Chinese-Russian cooperation in space technology (likely, with more to come), she said. The U.S., she didn't mention, is legally barred from any space cooperation with China, thanks to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and the anti-China "human rights" mafia in the Congress.

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