Three taikonauts smile and wave
The front page of the Southern Metropolis Daily today shows a picture of the three astronauts China has sent into space aboard the Shenzhou 9 space craft. The headline, “Realized Dream Tiangong” refers to the Tiangong 1 Space Lab, and the fact that the Shenzhou 9 has now successfully docked with it.
Chinese astronauts are sometimes called ‘taikonauts’, (a combination of the Chinese word, ‘taikong‘ (太空 space) and the Greek, ‘naut’ (traveler), although some say the word is a silly affectation. The three taikonauts on this mission include: Liu Yang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. Liu Yang is the first woman China has ever sent into space. Last week China announced two contenders for the job, and then kicked Liu’s competitor Wang Yaping out of the running for the mission (see Danwei stpry linked below).
The current Shenzhou 9 mission is China’s fourth manned foray into space (the last was in 2008). It follows an unmanned mission last year, when the Shenzhou 8 docked successfully at the Tiangong Space Lab. Now, the three taikonauts aboard the Shenzhou 9 will attempt the country’s first manned space docking. If successful, they will have accomplished an important prerequisite to setting up a national space state or space laboratory.
The docking that has already been carried out was an automated procedure, meaning that computers controlled the whole process. In a few days, the crew will attempt a manual docking, meaning they will decouple the Shenzhou 9 from the Tiangong Lab, retreat to a defined distance and then command their ship to re-attach itself. The article is full of optimistic projections for the success of this manual docking, and includes many pictures of the taikonauts maneuvering around the gravity-free Tiangong Space Lab.