“Heavenly Palace:” China’s Dream Home in Space

Preparatory work is completed, Tiangong-1 waiting for the launch.
With a length of 10.4 meters and maximum diameter of 3.35 meters, China’s first space lab module is hardly the size of any palace.

But its name Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace-1,” speaks for a dream home the Chinese have long envisioned in the sky. In Chinese folklore, a heavenly palace often refers to the place in outer space where deities reside.

The module, which will pave the way for a future space station, is scheduled to be launched by the Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket between 9:16 p.m. and 9:31 p.m., Beijing Time, on Thursday.

“The name ‘Heavenly Palace’ is very Chinese. It also echoes the previously-launched Shenzhou spacecraft and Chang’e moon orbiter,” said Bai Mingsheng (白明生), vice chief engineer with space lab system of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

In Chinese, Shenzhou means magic vessel, and Chang’e was the mythical Chinese goddess who, according to legend, flew to the moon.

Bai couldn’t remember who came up with the name, but “it won acclaim from the whole group of scientists.”

Many experts said the name “Heavenly Palace” fits well with the concept of a rudimentary space station, and it also offers imagination to a bigger system, according to Bai.

Inside Tiangong-1, a paint scheme will help the astronauts aboard maintain their sense of direction; the module’s inner walls will be in two colors, one commonly associated with the sky and one with the ground.

“In the microgravitational environment, astronauts will lose their sense of direction. The paint scheme helps astronauts build the sense of sky and ground,” Bai said.

After Tiangong-1 enters its low Earth orbit, it will await space dockings with the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, to be launched later this year, and the Shenzhou-9 and -10 spacecraft, to be launched successively for more docking tests in the next two years.