China Extends Its Reach in Space, with Shenzhou-10 Launch
June 12, 2013 • 8:12AM

The launch of China's fifth manned space flight yesterday starts a 15-day mission which will push further the orbital technology China is developing, in preparation for assembling its own space station by 2020. The Shenzhou-10 crew of three will spend more time linked to the orbiting Tiangong-1 small module, try more complex maneuvers between the two craft than previous missions, and test out improved hardware.

China's second female astronaut, 33-year-old Wang Yaping, will teach China's first lessons for primary and middle school students, from space. "We are all students in facing the vast universe," she said at a press conference the day before launch. Interestingly, Chinese media are describing Wang as the first Chinese "teacher in space," although she is a pilot by training, not a teacher. But the reference harks back to NASA's Teacher-in-Space program of the 1980s.

As has become traditional, the Chinese President, Xi Jingping, met with the crew members before launch, and praised them afterwards. Although improved technologies, such as for waste management, will be tested during this mission, the Chinese engineers consider this an operational flight, in that the basic hardware has been adequately tested. During this mission, crew members will have more time for rest, as confidence in the operation of the hardware has increased.

This year, China will have an opportunity to showcase its accomplishments before the entire international space community. The annual International Astronautical Congress, held in a different country each year, will be held in Beijing in September. During a press conference the day before the Shenzhou-10 launch, Chinese spokesman Wu Ping reported that around the same time, China and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs will co-host an international seminar, to promote cooperation in space flight. "We will be more open in carrying out extensive exchanges and cooperation with other countries during the construction and operation stages of the space lab and manned space station," she said, "and share our achievements with them, especially with developing nations."