Another Small Step
To help ring in the New Year, China announced on January 2,
2003, that they intend to put a person into space later this
year. If they are successful, they will join the United States
and Russia as the only nations to have sent a person into
space. Russia was the first in 1961, and the U.S. followed
close behind in 1962.
China's announcement came on the heels
of a successful launch, on December 30th, 2002, of an unmanned
spacecraft. The Shenzhou IV spacecraft contained the complete
system that would be needed for human space flight. Additionally,
it ran experiments that would test whether it could sustain
human life in orbit.
The Shenzhou IV flight was the 27th consecutive
launch success from the Chinese space agency. This series
of successful launches started in October 1996. The Shenzhou
series started in 1999.
Shenzhou IV blasted off from the Gobi desert
early on Monday morning and entered an orbit. It was tracked
by Chinese ships in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
According to China's Xinhua News Agency, the astronauts currently
training for space flight will be "absolutely capable"
of making a flight within the year.
The Shenzhou series of rockets have been
designed after the successful Russian Soyuz rockets, which
continue to take passengers into space. All of the Shenzhou
missions have been designed to make a comfortable ride for
astronauts into space. Shenzhou III even included a dummy
in a space suit, and officials later declared that if it had
been a human, the astronaut could have definitely survived.
This latest flight takes the Chinese one
step closer to the Shenzhou V mission, which is scheduled
for the second half of this year and will take human passengers.
For the astronauts, China plans to use pilots they have recruited
from the nation's air force. Already, at least two Chinese
astronauts have been sent to Russia for training.
If China succeeds, it will mean that three
nations have the ability to put people in orbit. Currently,
the Americans and the Russians own space travel. The International
Space Station, which is shared by Russian and American astronauts,
is a joint effort between the countries.
China's new small steps and giant leaps
into space bring a third nation to the table. This could be
good and bad news for the Russians, who have been struggling
to continue financing their International Space Station ventures.
One way the Russians have been able
to continue their cash flow has been to sell visits to the
space station to wealthy tourists. Last April, California-based
investment fund manager Dennis Tito bought a trip along the
Soyuz flights. More recently (and with more celebrity status),
NSYNC member Lance Bass was attempting a tourist flight of
his own but eventually was dropped from the program after
his funding fell through.
Use the Internet to research the history
of the space program. Design a timeline to be posted in class
that details the development of space travel for the U.S.,
Russia, and China.