Chinese Space Crew Does Manual Re-Dock to Module; Could Be Used for ISS, and Foreign Astronauts
June 26, 2012 • 8:09AM

Chinese Shenzhou-9 pilot Liu Wang slowly eased the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in to dock with the Tiangong-1 space target Sunday, successfully demonstrating an important manned back-up capability to the automated docking system that had been used a week ago. He and Commander Jing Haipeng had practiced on more than 1,500 docking simulations before launch. The crew left the Tiangong-1 module, reentered the Shenzhou-9 capsule, automatically undocked from the module, and then manually redocked to Tiangong-1. The maneuver was described as "precise and perfect" by spokeswoman Wu Ping.

Before going back to their Shenzhou-9 spacecraft to undock, the crew prepared the Tiangong-1 for independent flight, in case there were a problem with the docking, and the crew required an emergency return to Earth. The control system on the module was turned off, and the crewed Shenzhou-9 was the active vehicle during the docking.

Wu also reported during a post-docking press conference that China had spent 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) on its manned space program between 1992 and 2005, and will have spent an equivalent amount from 2005 to next year's Shenzhou-10 mission. What is important is not the absolute numbers, which should not be compared to what NASA can buy for the same dollar amount, but the steady and long-term commitment China has made in its manned space exploration program.

Chinese space experts noted that a modified version of the docking sysem would allow Shenzhou manned capsules to dock to the International Space Station (now forbidden by the United States). Sunday Wu remarked at the press conference, in response to a Pakistani journalist, that she believes China will be able to train foreign astronauts using its own space technology, and send them on a Shenzhou mission, in the future.