Three Chinese astronauts have completed major tasks over the past six days inside the conjoint Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab, before they succeeded in a manual docking on Sunday.
Chen Shanguang, chief commander of the mission’s astronaut system, on Sunday revealed how the astronauts, including the country’s first woman astronaut Liu Yang, lived in the conjoint spacecraft during those days.
The spacecraft and the orbiting space lab were joined together by an automated docking on June 18. The Shenzhou-9 was sent into space on June 16 from a launch center in northwest China’s Gobi desert.
According to Chen, the astronauts — veteran astronaut and mission commander Jing Haipeng, crew mate Liu Wang and Liu Yang — worked and rested like they did on Earth even though they witnessed the sun rise and set every one and a half hours.
The astronauts’ days were carefully planned: about eight hours of work, six hours of life care, two hours of leisure and about seven to eight hours of sleep.
“They are all in good spirit and full of energy. Their minds are clear and voices are loud and clear,” Chen said. “All basic physical indicators for the astronauts, such as cardiogram, respiration, body temperature and blood pressure, remain normal.”
During the six days inside the experimental space module, astronauts conducted medical experiments for the first time in an orbiting craft.
“We’ve collected valuable data to further analyze the physical impact on astronaut’s body caused by long space flight and that data will be used as key reference for the engineering design of the country’s first space station,” Chen said.
Astronauts also worked with the control base on the ground to maintain the spacecraft, exercise under a gravity-free situation and tend their own life, he noted.
Also, astronauts monitored the entry process of the first manned space docking under the robotic maneuvering on June 18 and would take over the spacecraft Shenzhou-9 to dock to abort the mission with manual control as the backup measure should any emergency occur.
But the automated space docking mission was very successful and such manual backup measures were not activated, Chen said.
During Sunday’s manual docking mission, the Shenzhou-9 first parted from the Tiangong-1 to a berth point 400 meters away from the module, and then approached the Tiangong-1 under the control of Liu Wang, who was assisted by Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang.
The spacecraft and the space lab module were conjoined again at around 12:55 p.m. Beijing time, marking the success of the nation’s first manual space docking mission.
The astronauts will return to the Tiangong-1 lab module from the Shenzhou-9 hours after the manual docking procedure to continue with experiments and research in space.
This is China’s fourth manned space mission since 2003, when Yang Liwei became the country’s first person in space.