Shenzhou 5 in assembly, photo released August 2003. Notice the workers wearing surgical masks, indicating that the photo was perhaps taken during the SARS outbreak.
Trivia and quick facts about the Shenzhou manned spacecraft
The Shenzhou spacecraft appears similar to the Russian Soyuz, but is different in dimensions (slightly larger and heavier) and does not seem to use any detailed parts copied from the Soyuz or built under license. Therefore although it follows the classic layout of the Soyuz, adopts many of the same technical solutions, and the re-entry vehicle has the same shape, it cannot be considered strictly a 'copy'. And if one considers Shenzhou to be a copy of the Soyuz, then was the Soyuz design stolen - from the American General Electric Apollo spacecraft proposal?
Yang Liwei was not the first person born in China to fly in space. William Anders, born in Hong Kong, orbited the moon in December 1968. Shannon Lucid, born in Shanghai, holds the world record for a woman for time in space (over 223 days in space on 5 spaceflights). And physicist Taylor Wang, also born in Shanghai, spent seven days in space aboard shuttle mission STS-51-B in 1985.
What should the Chinese astronauts be called in English? During the Cold War, the press adopted the Russian word 'cosmonaut' to refer to Soviet astronauts. This became muddled after 1990, when 'space navigators' from many nations served aboard Mir and the International Space Station. Chen Lan, who pioneered coverage of the Chinese space program on the web, coined the artificial word 'taikonaut', from the Chinese word for outer space. The Chinese term, used in official statements and the national press, is 'yuhangyuan', which unfortunately is pretty difficult for Westerners to spell, remember, or pronounce. An appeal not to repeat the mistakes of the past - why not just call them Chinese astronauts?
Unlike the American shuttle Shenzhou is equipped with a launch escape tower, which can pull the crew capsule away from the booster in case of a failure or explosion during the first 160 seconds of flight. Such an escape system has saved Russian Soyuz crews on one occasion over the years (Soyuz T-10-1). But there are many other dangers for an astronaut in a Soyuz-type spacecraft. There can be a launch booster failure after the escape tower has separated (Soyuz 18-1). During the landing sequence, there can be failure of the retrorockets (Soyuz 33), depressurisation of the capsule (Soyuz 11), failure of the service module to jettison (Soyuz 5), failure of the guidance system (Soyuz TMA-1), failure of the parachute system (Soyuz 1), or landing in remote or rough terrain (Soyuz 23, Soyuz 18-1).
Shenzhou has a total weight of 7800 kg (17,000 lbs), is 8.55 m (28 ft) long and has a maximum diameter of 2.8 m (9.2 ft). It is powered with four solar panels that generate a total of 1500 watts of power. It consists of three modules that separate during flight. These are:
The orbital module, mounted in the nose, provides living space for the astronauts and contains scientific or military equipment that can be different from flight or flight. It separates before retrofire and remains in orbit after the crew has returned to earth, continuing its scientific or military observation mission. In the future it may be left behind, docked to a Chinese space station.
The re-entry capsule, mounted in the centre. This is the same 'headlight' shape as the Russian Soyuz capsule, and brings three (perhaps up to four) astronauts back to earth. After the retrofire is completed, it separates from the service module. After re-entry, a single main parachute is deployed. Just before landing, the heat shield is jettisoned and small rockets fire for a soft landing in the central Asian desert.
The service module, mounted in the centre, contains the main spacecraft electronics and environmental systems, and the liquid propellant rocket system that allows the spacecraft to manoeuvre in orbit and return to earth. It has four main engines at the base, much more powerful than those on Soyuz. It separates from the re-entry capsule after retrofire and is burned up in the atmosphere.
The CZ-2F booster is descended from the first Chinese ICBM, the DF-4. This was designed under the leadership of brilliant American-educated Tsien Hsue-shen, the Father of the Chinese space and rocket programmes. The controversy rages even fifty years later -- was Tsien driven to Mao's China by McCarthyite paranoia, or was he a Communist agent all along? Did the DF-5 incorporate technology Tsien learned of in the earliest design phase of the American Titan rocket?