Space.com is reporting that the mission of the Shenzhou 9 has come to a successful conclusion as the Chinese spacecraft landed in Inner Mongolia with all three astronauts safe. Space experts continue to debate the implications of the latest Chinese space feat.
Shenzhou 9 lands
According to Space.com, after undocking from the Tiangong 1 prototype space station module, the Shenzhou 9 reentered the Earth's atmosphere and landed in Inner Mongolia The landing was broadcast live on Chinese television. The spacecraft was seen streaking through the sky before deploying its parachute. The landing was a little rough, as the capsule rolled onto its side after it touched down. All three Chinese astronauts, Jing Haipeng, the mission commander, Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman in space, and Liu Wang were safe and in good spirits.
Shenzhou 9's accomplishments
Space.com notes that Shenzhou 9's mission accomplished a number of Chinese firsts. The Shenzhou 9 was the first Chinese manned spacecraft to dock both automatically and manually with another spacecraft, the Tiangong 1. Chinese astronauts also gained experience conducting science experiments and fulfilling other tasks in micro gravity. The way is thus prepared for the construction of China's first space station, scheduled to take place later this decade.
Implications: time to cooperate with China
Writing for CNN, Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, suggests that it is now time to invite China into the system of international space cooperation and to make that country a partner in the International Space Station. China, Chiao notes, has developed some impressive technology but, unlike Russia and the United States, lacks operational experience. Chiao suggests that this is preferable to another space race and that by bringing China into the fold, the United States can retain its leadership position.
Implications: the Chinese space challenge
Writing in Space Daily, Morris James notes that China may have started behind where the United States is, but is accelerating and moving fast. He notes that the American space program seems to be in disarray, suggesting that China has been able to accomplish a great deal for the same amount of money that the United States has wasted on programs, like Constellation, that have been cancelled in mid stream. While James does not suggest a solution -- either a race or cooperation -- he does suggest that the West had better take notice of what China is accomplishing.
The success of the Shenzhou 9 mission will be taken into account for the scheduling of the Shenzhou 10, to take place probably in early 2013, according to Space.com. Shenzhou 10 will also visit Tiangong 1 for docking practice and microgravity research. The Chinese are planning a multi-module 60-ton space station by 2020. Beyond that, they are planning to land people on the moon, something no one has done in almost 40 years.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.