Manned mission threatened by communication blackout 2007-08-13 16:48:14   Print

    BEIJING, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese aerospace experts saved the country's first ever manned space mission four years ago as the spaceship was faced with lethal impact while flying through the communications blackout area before landing.

    The Xi'an Satellite Monitor and Control Center released recently for the first time the danger met by the spacecraft, Shenzhou V, and China's first astronaut Yang Liwei.

    Dong Deyi, head of the Xi'an center, said in an interview with Xinhua that Yang lost every means to contact with the ground command and control headquarters as soon as entering the aerosphere, which fell in the worst case scenario prepared by the space mission team.

    Every spacecraft would be covered by plasma as running through the aerosphere, according to experts. The plasma obstructs communications between the spacecraft and command and control center on the ground.

    China was the third country, next to the former Soviet Union and the United States, to send people in space.

    Although space scientists and technologists garnered experience in controlling the spacecraft after four unmanned tryouts, the headquarters designed a full list of contingency plans, including a possible emergency landing in Australian heartland.

    "Even radar could not capture any signal from the returning module," Dong said in the interview.

    After the Shenzhou V went out of the blackout area, Dong said, the echo signals from the spaceship were still volatile which sufficiently threatened a safe landing of astronaut Yang.

    The Xi'an center, which is responsible for every landing of the Shenzhou spaceships since 1999, ordered implementation of the optical guiding and tracking system instead of communication-guided landing control, Dong said.

    The aerospace technologists used cinetheodolites on the ground to measure spacecraft position and record the movement of the Shenzhou V. Precise positioning of the spacecraft enabled officers to properly control the slow-down parachute which was vital to a soft landing in Inner Mongolia.

    However, the landing spot was nine kilometers east of the previously planned location, Dong said, citing that the rescue team reached astronaut Yang 12 minutes after his successful landing.

    Onboard Shenzhou V, Yang spent 21 hours in orbiting the earth for 14 times from October 15 to 16, 2003.

    Yang's adventure, however, was not the first time that Shenzhou spaceships were faced with challenges. Xie Mingbao, one key figurein managing the manned space mission, once revealed that at least four accidents occurred in the 11-year research and development leading to the first manned launch in 2003.

    Just before its blast-off in January 1999, the first Shenzhou spaceship was diagnosed with a problem in its backup aerospace ecosystem. The headquarters decided to delay the planned launch.

    The launch of the second experimental spacecraft, Shenzhou II, was nor smooth. Xie said an accidental drop left a small dent on the Long March rocket which was designated to carry Shenzhou II. It was after careful safety checkups that the spacecraft was allowed to go.

    Shenzhou III experienced even worse fate. Technicians found no electricity in one socket of the lower part of the carrying rocket, which indicated a defect in electro-circuit design. The Long March rocket was then dismantled and transported back to Beijing for a complete check.

    An unexpected chilly spell almost impeded the space journey of Shenzhou IV. Xie said the headquarters greatly worried about a one-week chilly spell, which dropped the temperature to minus 27 degrees Celsius. A low-tech solution helped ensure the planned launch--Technicians covered the rocket with 200 quilts.

    After his space-faring, Yang Liwei helped train his fellow astronauts and now becomes deputy head of the Space Medical Engineering Institute of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

    He was honored for his excellence of service at a gathering early this month marking the 80th anniversary of the founding of the PLA.

    Yang was followed by Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng who had toured the outer space for almost five days in October 2005.

    China began its clandestine manned space program in 1992, which was coded as the 921 Project. Since then, China has spent at least20 billion yuan (2.64 billion U.S. dollars) in the project and sent three astronauts into orbit.

Editor: Song Shutao
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