China takes another step into space
June 15, 2012 4:39 PM   Subscribe

China has announced it will launch Shenzhou-9 on Saturday morning at 6:37am EDT. The space mission will feature the country's first manned docking with Tiangong 1, a mini space station; the first Chinese woman to go into space, Liu Yang, and Jing Haipeng, the first taikonaut to venture into space twice.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the NPR article on Liu Yang:

China is not a member of the International Space Station effort, notes AP, because of U.S. opposition to Chinese participation.

Does anyone know why this is? A WaPo article linked within it makes the same assertion.

Regardless, here's hoping for a successful mission and a safe return.
posted by jquinby at 5:07 PM on June 15, 2012


Does anyone know why this is?

Industrial espionage, stolen patents, cheap knock-off booster rockets, the usual sort of thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:08 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eeesh. Bon chance to the brave Chinese astronauts.

Having dealt closely with Chinese engineers and technicians in a different hi-reliability technology sector for many years, I reaaaaaally have serious reservations about the maturity of their hi-rel culture and the safety of these good people. Space shots are high-risk even when everything is well-engineered, -planned and -executed.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:24 PM on June 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Taikonaut, astronaut, cosmonaut. I wish we had one word that described working space sailors instead of these separate nationalistic words.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:25 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Taikonaut, astronaut, cosmonaut. I wish we had one word that described working space sailors instead of these separate nationalistic words.
Space Flâneur.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:49 PM on June 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Godspeed, Shenzhou-9.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:51 PM on June 15, 2012


Here comes the pitch, and wow it's a slow one...

Taikonaut, astronaut, cosmonaut. I wish we had one word that described working space sailors instead of these separate nationalistic words.

Hero.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:19 PM on June 15, 2012


Exo-terra conquistador.
posted by Atreides at 6:32 PM on June 15, 2012


Taikonaut, astronaut, cosmonaut. I wish we had one word that described working space sailors instead of these separate nationalistic words.

Why not use "taikonaut" then? It certainly is understood by the most people on earth.

It's not nationalism - Canada and Aus and British astronauts are "astronauts", it's a linguistic difference.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:02 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, I thought we asked them and they said no. They would rather build up their own capability. India took pretty much the same stance.

Two space stations simultaneously occupied: pretty sweet.
posted by BeeDo at 7:44 PM on June 15, 2012


I love "taikonaut, astronaut, cosmonaut." Space travel is pretty damn nationalistic, y'all. It's like manifest destiny without the guilt.
posted by citizenface at 8:42 PM on June 15, 2012


Hero.

Hero or Герой, comrade? Or just 英雄,同志??
posted by jaduncan at 9:38 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who feels guilty about manifest destiny?
posted by TSOL at 11:05 PM on June 15, 2012


What's the rationale behind China's manned space program? Prestige? Bragging right? Is there any practical things to be gained from it?
posted by Carius at 11:54 PM on June 15, 2012


Congress has specifically prohibited NASA from engaging bilaterally with China. Language.

China has a history of allegedly stealing Western technology, particularly when their launch program transitioned from a problem-plagued era to a run of 20 successful launches -- following the failed Intelsat 708 launch, in which sensitive guidance and telemetry equipment was, it is believed, stolen and reverse engineered by the Chinese. As such China is presumed to be a bad actor in any technological cooperation venture and combined with its increasingly aggressive military stance isn't likely to be trusted any time soon.

Meanwhile, some other ISS partners such as Canada are open to participation from China and India. It's possible that they could get involved in commercial supply flights, for example. Realistically, though, the way that ISS works is through a barter system, where some countries win the right to have astronauts on missions by supplying ISS with some sort of concrete service such as a module or the Canadarm2. Most of the "US" modules were actually built in Italy under ESA contract, for example. What China or India would want to bring to the table here for the mere achievement of participation is a good question.
posted by dhartung at 12:43 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


For others who came here looking for some launch footage (or for those who just want to practice counting in Mandarin): Shenzhou-9 launch video.
posted by caaaaaam at 6:43 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a video of the launch with English commentary, that includes views of the crew inside the cabin and shots from cameras mounted on the Long March 2F rocket.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:46 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


China has a history of allegedly stealing Western technology
Interestingly, it started with the US all but expelling one of the founders of the US space program.
Shortly after his wedding, Qian returned to America, to take up a teaching position at MIT; Jiang Ying would join him in December 1947. In 1949, upon the recommendation of von Kármán, Qian became the first director of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Center at Caltech.

[...]

In 1949,when he was applying for naturalization, allegations were made that he was a communist, and his security clearance was revoked in June 1950.

[...]

The Undersecretary of the Navy at the time, Dan A. Kimball, tried to keep Qian in the U.S., commenting:
"It was the stupidest thing this country ever did. He was no more a Communist than I was, and we forced him to go."
posted by b1tr0t at 8:28 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh neat, didn't realize that the launch of Shenzhou-9 occurred on the anniversay of the launch of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:00 PM on June 16, 2012


Tiangong 1 is easily visible to the naked eye in the evening (though not as bright as ISS). If you'd like to know when it is visible from your location, check out Heavens Above. You can choose your location from the database, and then you find all the visible passes for the next ten days. (If none show up, go for the next 10 days, etc.)
posted by BrashTech at 12:50 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


posted by Brandon Blatcher China takes another step into space . . . the first Chinese woman to go into space, Liu Yang

That's one small step for Yang, one giant leap for Yang's kind.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:36 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Remember the Apollo 11 plaque inscription:
"HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON JULY 1969, A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND"
As the space race continues, I hope we remember this. The time will eventually come when old flags and footprints vanish, only to be replaced by new footprints.
posted by cenoxo at 4:24 PM on June 16, 2012


As such China is presumed to be a bad actor in any technological cooperation venture and combined with its increasingly aggressive military stance isn't likely to be trusted any time soon.

Westerners also have a history of, shall we say, liberating technology. Without Operation Paperclip at the close of WWII, America probably wouldn't have successfully launched ICBMs and spy satellites during the postwar decades, then leveraged that technology to land on the Moon in 1969. Apart from the well-meaning plaque that Apollo 11 left on the lunar surface, the Moon landings also left a strong message about Earthly military power and who wields it.

I wonder how much self-restraint we're exercising in our own surveillance of Chinese technology while keeping our eyes on modest visions of full spectrum dominance.
posted by cenoxo at 5:26 PM on June 16, 2012


Westerners also have a history of, shall we say, liberating technology. Without Operation Paperclip at the close of WWII...

All of the major Allied Powers wanted, and got, a piece of the German rocket division at the end of WW II. Why did the Americans get the biggest and best piece, Werner Von Braun? Because he wanted to be found by the Americans.

It less about the Americans liberating anything and more about the Germans saying "Hey, we'd like you to buy us and get us the hell out of here. Because the Russians are scary and we'd rather take a our chances in your nice, open society."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:36 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why did the Americans get the biggest and best piece, Werner Von Braun? Because he wanted to be found by the Americans.

As did many other German scientists and technicians at the time: no doubt that any of us would do the same thing in similar circumstances. To the victor go the spoils.

Ex-Nazi and former Peenemünde technical director Werhner Von Braun later became Operation Paperclip's best-known acquisition due to his high visibility in the U.S. space program. OP's foremost goal was to acquire German technology in numerous fields to hasten the American victory against the Japanese. When Japan surrendered a few months later after Hiroshima and Nagasaki (not to mention the redirection of Russian forces against Japan), the USSR became our new global opponent and the Cold War's space race took off.

Now that China is beginning to flex its spaceflight muscles (using rockets and spacecraft based largely on Russian designs), they're accused of being 'bad actors' that steal our technology and we avoid cooperation with them. Given our own historical record, we've apparently gained the ability to throw stones into orbit, but I'll bet the Chinese ignore them.

Like Internet connections that automatically route around blocks and delays, technology has a way of coming back around again. Von Braun's rocket designs for Germany were based on the work of American Robert H. Goddard in the 1930's:
At the time, Germany was highly interested in American physicist Robert H. Goddard's research. Before 1939, German scientists occasionally contacted Goddard directly with technical questions. Wernher von Braun used Goddard's plans from various journals and incorporated them into the building of the Aggregat (A) series of rockets. The A-4 rocket would become well known as the V-2.[22] In 1963, von Braun reflected on the history of rocketry, and said of Goddard's work: "His rockets ... may have been rather crude by present-day standards, but they blazed the trail and incorporated many features used in our most modern rockets and space vehicles."[8]

Goddard confirmed his work was used by von Braun in 1944, shortly before the Nazis began firing V-2s at England. A V-2 crashed in Sweden and some parts were sent to an Annapolis lab where Goddard was doing research for the Navy. If this was the so-called Bäckebo Bomb, it had been procured by the British in exchange for Spitfires; Annapolis would have received some parts from them. Goddard is reported to have recognized components he had invented, and inferred that his brainchild had been turned into a weapon.[23]
Thus, Von Braun's lunar ambitions eventually became reality thanks to the work of a pre-war American scientist and the post-war paid labor of thousands of American scientists, technicians, and workers in NASA's space programs.

Mankind has been working on rockets for a little while now, but will it matter whose flag finally (if ever) reaches a galaxy far, far away? In 1969, "MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON JULY 1969, A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND". Is there something about the "ALL MANKIND" part that we don't understand?
posted by cenoxo at 8:34 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


cenoxo, this isn't a morals game where the nicest country wins. The US has every right to exercise caution where China is concerned, and there have been no substantive violations of the Outer Space Treaty that I know of.

We need to remember that the US-Russian cooperation we have today is the end result of years of tentative, limited handshakes such as the Apollo-Soyuz mission and Shuttle-Mir.

they're accused of being 'bad actors' that steal our technology

They almost certainly did steal our technology. Do we have no right to be upset about that and to limit our trust as a consequence? That technology doesn't just have bearing on putting taikonauts into orbit, it has bearing on the guidance systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Are we supposed to ignore that?

Considering the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, we have really excellent relations with the Chinese and there hasn't been a serious incident (outside of some issues with Chinese dissidents) since the EP-3 crash in 2001. Still, there isn't a strategic framework in place where the US and China feel totally comfortable with one another. You're really asking a lot to lecture us on opening our toolbox to their purview.
posted by dhartung at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2012


We need to remember that the US-Russian cooperation we have today is the end result of years of tentative, limited handshakes such as the Apollo-Soyuz mission and Shuttle-Mir.

Tom Stafford chronicled a lot of the numerous meetings and failed attempts that went into the Apollo-Soyuz mission and space station cooperation in his books We Have Capture. Even today, there's still a lot of angry people that charge that such cooperation benefited the Soviets/Russians more than the US and amounted to a transfer of technology from the US to Russia.

Von Braun's rocket designs for Germany were based on the work of American Robert H. Goddard in the 1930's

Von Braun was also influenced by the father of Soviet rocketry, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. There were lots of big brains who could have been in a similar position as Von Braun, he just had luck and charm to be in several right places at the right time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:13 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


..this isn't a morals game where the nicest country wins.

Sadly true, but my point is not to open our toolbox to anyone. What bothers me is how self-righteous we sound when accusing others of using the same methods that we're probably using to try and peek into theirs.

My current read is Dragonfly — NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir, which emphasizes the different responses of American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts during life-threatening crises aboard the space station. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, yet it's the cooperation between them aboard a fragile, crowded spacecraft that overcomes the problems.

On the grand scale of things, we're all aboard a slightly larger, still fragile, and crowded spacecraft, and none of us have a monopoly for long on the methods that may keep us all alive. Instead of stealing each others' technology (and acting outraged when ours is taken), it would be nice if we all admitted to the act and got down to cooperating in spite of it.

(No lecture intended, just opinions.)
posted by cenoxo at 11:10 PM on June 17, 2012


Video, in English, of Shenzhou 9 docking with the Tiangong-1 module.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:22 AM on June 18, 2012


Entering Tiangong-1, in English, Part 1, 2, 3
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:42 AM on June 18, 2012


Untranslated video of all three astronauts in the module
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:08 AM on June 18, 2012


China is the third country to dock a crewed vessel in space
posted by homunculus at 12:59 PM on June 18, 2012


China Space Race Will Not Be With NASA, But With SpaceX
posted by homunculus at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


China develops so quickly! When will she surpass NASA? what a miracle!
posted by Angel-tealover at 2:30 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Half hour video of Shenzhou 9 manually docking with the module.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2012


Cool video of Shenzhou 9 landing. You get to see the retro rockets fire and how much the ship tumbles after landing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:29 AM on June 29, 2012


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