China's Shenzhou-9 Prepares for Docking with Tiangong-1 on Monday

China's Shenzhou-9 Prepares for Docking with Tiangong-1 on Monday

China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft is conducting a series of three orbit changes as it prepares to dock with the Tiangong-1 space station on Monday.   The three-person Chinese crew includes China’s first woman astronaut, Liu Yang.

Chinese astronauts are often referred to in the west as taikonauts, but China’s own English-language coverage uses the word astronaut.

Shenzhou-9 was successfully launched at 6:37 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) yesterday.  The spacecraft is in the process of catching up with the orbit of Tiangong-1, China’s first space station that was launched last September.   The automated Shenzhou-8 spacecraft rendezvoused and docked with Tiangong-1 in November, but this will be the first docking with a crew. 

The Chinese media have not been precise about when the docking will occur on Monday.  A CCTV report yesterday mentioned it would take place about 15:00 Beijing time, which would be 07:00 GMT or 3:00 am EDT.   Bob Christy at estimates that it will take place at 06:10 GMT (2:10 am EDT).  However, Dragon-in-space, an unaffiliated website devoted to the Chinese space program, states the docking will take place “about 57 hours after launch.”   Since launch was at 06:37 EDT, that would make the docking much later in the day — about 3:37 pm EDT.

The three crew are Jing Haipeng, commander; Liu Wang, who will conduct the manual docking; and Liu Yang, the woman astronaut who is in charge of a range of biological experiments.   

Chinese news accounts focus on the manual docking that Liu Wang will conduct, but a CCTV report yesterday revealed that the first docking will be automated.   After the crew has a few days to acclimate to weightlessness. Shenzhou-9 will undock and at that time Liu Wang will perform a manual re-docking.

CCTV is Chinese television that broadcasts in English. It’s website has several text stories as well as videos narrated in English about the Shenzhou spacecraft and this mission.

The Shenzhou-9 mission is scheduled to last 13 days.

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