Overview/China's Manned Space Program" data-pin-do="buttonBookmark">
SHENZHOU 5 China's first manned spacecraft, is expected to blast into orbit sometime this fall. The nine-meter-long craft, which holds two pairs of solar panels and four main engines, is designed to carry up to three astronauts. If the mission is successful, China will become only the third nation (after Russia and the U.S.) to send a manned vehicle into space. Image: ALFRED T. KAMAJIAN
At the Jiuquan Space Center near the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China, Shenzhou 5 is being readied for launch. The spacecraft--its name means "divine vessel" in Chinese--is nearly nine meters long and weighs almost eight metric tons. Sometime this fall, Shenzhou 5 is scheduled to blast into orbit atop a Chang Zheng ("Long March") rocket. Four earlier Shenzhou spacecraft have already made orbital flights, but unlike those unmanned test vehicles, Shenzhou 5 is expected to carry a crew of up to three young Chinese military pilots. If all goes as planned, China will become the third nation to send people into space.
Although representatives of three dozen countries have gone into orbit since the dawn of the space age, they have all traveled on board either American or Russian spacecraft. In pursuing its own human spaceflight program, China has acquired and adapted some technologies that were originally developed in Russia and the U.S. Many features of the Shenzhou seem familiar to
This article was originally published with the title China's Great Leap Upward.