Curtis interviewed for story on Chinese space program
With China about to launch its second manned space flight on October 12, Dr. Anthony Curtis (Mass Communications) was interviewed on that subject by the Singapore Straits Times newspaper, Singapore's largest English broadsheet.
The interview was conducted via e-mail by a journalist for the newspaper stationed in Beijing, China.
In 2003, China launched a spacecraft piloted by Yang Liwei into Earth orbit. His flight made China the third nation able to send a man to space, following a trail blazed by Russia and the U.S.
"The Chinese have come a long way in the 2,300 years since religious Mandarins first tossed ceremonial bamboo tubes packed with gunpowder into festival fires to drive off evil spirits," Dr. Curtis told the Times. "In 1970, the Peoples Republic of China became the fifth nation in the world to launch a satellite to orbit above Earth. Then they launched Yang in 2003."
Piloted flights are launched from desert launch pads at the super-secret Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's remote Gansu province.
"That base has been used since the 1960s to launch a variety of important space projects including recoverable Earth observation satellites, micro-gravity missions and now manned flights," Dr. Curtis said. "However, most Chinese commercial space flights take off from other spaceports."
"The capsules and rockets for piloted space flights are assembled at sites around Beijing, then shipped nine hours by train to the Jiuquan site in the Gobi Desert," Dr. Curtis said.
Dr. Curtis pointed out that launches and landings from Jiuquan usually occur during northern hemisphere autumn and winter months because the seas are calmer for China's tracking ships stationed on oceans around the world.
"China calls its astronauts yuhangyuans," Dr. Curtis said. "The word yuhangyuan is Chinese for space navigator.
"And they call their spacecraft Shenzhou, which in Chinese means divine vessel. It is a domeshaped capsule about 30 feet long. It weighs about 17,000 pounds," he said.
Dr. Curtis said that, in space, the yuhangyuans in their Shenzhou capsule take off their 22 lb. space suits so they can move around as they conduct science experiments. They are able to wash, rest in sleeping bags and heat their food.
"The Shenzhou design looks much like a Russian Soyuz capsule, which originally was designed in the early 1960s," Dr. Curtis said. "Back then, that early Soyuz design was said to be similar to the General Electric Company's proposal for America's Apollo capsule.
"Russia is still using Soyuz capsules to carry cosmonauts and astronauts to and from the International Space Station," Dr. Curtis said.
"Shenzhou is a bit larger that a Soyuz, which can seat up to three persons," he said. "It's likely that China eventually will fly four "yuhangyuans" in one Shenzhou capsule."
China has a deep commitment to extensive ambitious plans for space exploration, the professor said.
"I'm sure this two-person Shenzhou flight, which is referred to as number six, will be followed by a Shenzhou-7 piloted flight during which one "yuhangyuan" will go outside of the capsule for a walk in open space," Dr. Curtis said. "They could do a space walk during Shenzhou-6, but probably won't until Shenzhou-7."
"Then I expect them to send up two piloted spacecrafts at about the same time to demonstrate their ability to rendezvous in orbit," Dr. Curtis said.
Since this interview, Dr. Curtis has been interviewed by Reuters news service for a news report.
Dr. Curtis' Space Today Online website: www.spacetoday.org/