The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Reasons not to travel in a Chinese rocket

It seems that the Chinese have launched their 2nd manned space mission. Based on the linked CNN report, I have my doubts about the viability of the program.
China's Shenzhou 6 briefly fired its rockets to adjust its orbit early Friday as the spacecraft began its third day of a mission meant to help prepare for the eventual launch of a Chinese space station.

The maneuver was carried out after the capsule was found to have been dragged closer to the Earth by gravity, said the Web site of the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily. It said the "maintenance operation" lasted a few seconds, and there was no indication the crew was in any danger.
Or as an earlier version had it,
Astronauts discovered the craft had "slightly deviated from its designed orbit" and was moving a little closer to the Earth due to gravity, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Either this is a bad translation, or the Chinese press needs to learn some orbital mechanics. Either the capsule was delivered to the wrong orbit, or atmospheric drag was the culprit for lowering it. Gravity is keeping it going around. Which reminds me of an error I saw in a children's science encyclopedia according to which gravity stops at the altitude where spacecraft orbit, which is why astronauts float around, and then resumes around the orbit of the Moon. Here they seem to be dipping in and out of the gravity zone.
The official Xinhua News Agency said a new road to the landing site in grasslands of the northern Inner Mongolia region opened Friday as the space program prepared for the capsule's return.
Whew! I'm glad they got that finished in time, although I imagine the astronauts would have been more comfortable to see this before they launched.
Recovery crews spent Thursday practicing rescue work, launching helicopters to the primary landing area in the Inner Mongolia region, Xinhua said.
After all, the road wasn't open yet.
Communist leaders hope the manned space program's triumphs will stir patriotic pride, shoring up their standing amid public anger at corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor.

Chinese space officials say they hope to land an unmanned probe on the Moon by 2010 and want to launch a space station.
but since
The Shenzhou -- or Divine Vessel -- capsule is a modified version of Russia's workhorse Soyuz. China also bought technology for space suits, life-support systems and other equipment from Moscow, though officials say all items launched into space are made in China.
I do wonder what Russian hardware they plan on modifying for this purpose.


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