China Launches First Astronaut

October 16, 2003 | The People's Republic of China became just the third nation to send a human into space. China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, spent 21 hours orbiting the Earth in the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, launched aboard a Chang Zheng 2F ("Long March") rocket. The name Shenzhou has been translated as "Divine Vessel," but "Spaceship" may be equally accurate. The Shenzhou has three sections — engine, descent, and orbital modules — and is similar to the Russian Soyuz in overall appearance. Indeed, the descent module was developed after China bought several used Soyuzes from Russia. The orbital module, however, is an advanced, all-Chinese design with its own solar-cell panels; it will remain in orbit and continue to carry out experiments for several months. Liwei emerged from the capsule after the descent module landed in northern China less than 5 kilometers from its intended target. Xie Mingbao, director of China's piloted space effort, explains that the next Shenzhou will be launched in a year or two.

For photos and other details, visit China's Xinhua News Agency.

Contour Mission Failure Report Released

October 16, 2003 | This week, 14 months after NASA's Comet Nucleus Tour (Contour) spacecraft disintegrated following a course-correcting rocket burn, the team charged with investigating the mishap released its final report. The panel concluded that the most likely reason was that the solid-rocket motor firing on August 15, 2002, overheated the spacecraft, causing it to tear apart. The possibilities deemed less probable were a collision with space debris, the solid rocket exploding, and a thruster misfiring that spun spacecraft out of control.

For more details and a link to a PDF version of the report, see the NASA press release.


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