Chinese astronauts dock with station

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China’s Shenzhou spacecraft has successfully docked with Tiangong-2, bringing two astronauts there for a 30 day mission.

The docking was completely automatic in order to test China’s docking systems for the arrival of future unmanned cargo freighters.


  • Edward

    From the article: “The Tiangong program is designed to test out the rendezvous and docking technologies that China will need to build a bona fide space station”

    A space station has to be assembled on orbit in order to be considered bona fide?

    So much for Sky Lab as a space station, and a few Soviet and Chinese space stations, too. I guess that is why Bigelow calls his products space habitats rather than space stations.

  • Edward: Skylab was unusual in that it was much much larger than any of these single modules launched by the Soviets in the past or China now. For example, Mir did not match the cubic volume of Skylab until it was completed, which took six modules total.

    By itself, with only a little upgrade Skylab could have functioned as an interplanetary spaceship. It certainly functioned as a full space station where crews could be rotated in and out and year long missions could have easily been maintained. To do such things on a Salyut station or on Tiangong-2 is much much more difficult, and requires repeated resupply.

    I strongly believe that von Braun designed the Saturn 5 with Skylab in mind. With only a few tweaks it would have been possible to assembly an interplanetary ship in orbit, using only two Saturn 5 launches, one to put Skylab in orbit and the second to bring it the fuel and supplies it needed to go to Mars and beyond.

    In fact, doesn’t that sounds exactly like Musk’s proposal a few weeks ago? Musk is very much following in von Braun’s footsteps, with many of the same ideas.

  • Localfluff

    The Chinese are very conservative with their space program. They don’t do anything others haven’t already done, they do it slower than during the space race and they build upon Soviet hardware from the 1960s and 70s for their human and Moon programs. They don’t look likely to try something new, like launching huge space station modules, anytime soon. Their strategy certainly is very successful. And maybe it has to do with their governmental management culture?

    One of the von Braun characteristics Elon Musk wants to revive, is fleet formation flying to Mars! Someone online suggested that the (cargo) spaceships could shield each other from cosmic radiation. Elon didn’t mention landing winged gliders on the icy polar cap and drive to the equator to build a landing strip there for the next fleet, so it isn’t all Das Mars Projekt ;-) The book from the late 1940s is not available free online. It has gotten bad reviews on its story, which I think has never been translated to English, but the large technical appendix is said to be the first realistic plan for a human trip to Mars.

  • Local Fluff: von Braun’s The Mars Project was also published in English. I’ve read it, and quoted it extensively in Leaving Earth.

    The reason the book got bad reviews is that it was written in an incredibly boring style. You had to be really really really interested in the topic to plow through it. However, you are 100% correct when you say that it was “the first realistic plan for a human trip to Mars.” Von Braun worked out the details based upon the available engineering and knowledge at the time, and proposed a plan that was reasonable. He then followed through by building the first component outlined in his plan, a giant rocket (the Saturn 5) capable of putting the necessary components into orbit.

    With the engineering built by von Braun in the 1960s, the U.S. could have explored the solar system in the 1970s and 1980s. The factor that prevented this from happening was cost. Hopefully, private enterprise now, in the 2020s, will solve that problem.

  • Edward

    Robert asked: “doesn’t that sounds exactly like Musk’s proposal a few weeks ago?”

    Indeed, I think that von Braun, and especially his Saturn V, has inspired a lot of scientists, engineers, technicians, and astronauts. It looks to me that Musk likes to accomplish what has not been done before, explaining three of his four companies (including Pay Pal, which he no longer owns).

    It seems to me that the difference between individuals/companies and governments in the space business is that governments like to do things but individuals and companies like to accomplish things. Musk seems to have chosen Mars, because we have already done the Moon.

    For the US, accomplishing the first Moon landing was merely doing national pride by doing better than the Soviet Union. Since government did not care about the Moon, we stopped going back and government seemed to ignore its existence. However, these days, some people and companies seem to care about mining resources in space, so there are now at least two companies that are set up to accomplish space mining.

    Localfluff noted that the Chinese government is taking things slowly. I think that is because they are eager to do space, but are not as eager to accomplish new achievements in space.

    Peter Diamandis stopped waiting for a slow US government to start space tourism, so he created the X Prize with a ten million dollar reward that he did not have. A bold move that paid off when another individual, Anousheh Ansari, donated the prize money in time for a winner to collect when they accomplished the goal that was intended to make space tourism affordable. Now, with Blue Origin’s New Shepard, civilians may be less than two years away from routinely going into space as tourists, expanding the new industry that the company, MirCorp, invented.

    This decade seems to be a repeat of the 1960s, with people dreaming of and exploring ideas for various uses of space and its resources. Unlike the 1960s, they are now planning how to accomplish these ideas, complete with some financing — from other individuals and companies — and may make it happen, this time. We individuals and companies are no longer content with waiting for governments to get around to doing what we want to accomplish in space, we are planning it and working to accomplish it ourselves.

    Right down to Bigelow’s commercial space habitats as space stations as well as Boeing’s and SpaceX’s commercial orbital taxies to get us there.

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