The Shenzhou VII spacecraft will blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province between September 25 and 30. Qi Faren, chief consultant for Shenzhou VII and VI, and former chief designer of the Shenzhou series, revealed some inside information to Changjiang Daily on September 21.
When asked about what the astronaut will actually do outside the spacecraft Qi said he once suggested retrieving the national flag that hangs outside the spaceship. After consideration it was finally decided the astronaut would perform some test and control experiments. He added, "Whether it's fetching the national flag or doing some experiments, the astronaut will have to do something, so that it's not just a case of proving our ability to put someone outside the spaceship."
As for the spacewalk, Qi said it's not quite right to call it a free walk or a walk attached to a rope. A free walk refers to a situation where an astronaut walks in the space freely. But in zero-gravity conditions an astronaut would float away if he tried it.
But the rope description is not quite accurate either. When the astronaut of Shenzhou VII walks outside the spacecraft, he will hold the handrails with one hand and conduct operations with the other. The rope connected to his body is for safety. "Just like an acrobat's safety belt."
When talking about the launch time, Qi denied that the blast off was scheduled to coincide with National Day. He said the date was set for scientific reasons. There were two considerations: firstly the technology should be totally ready, and secondly there should be good launch window.
He said Shenzhou VII is manned spaceship and the astronaut will work outside, so they had to choose a date when the spacecraft would be in sunlight as soon as it's in position, to save battery power and allow the astronaut work in daylight.
For Shenzhen VII, Qi said, the launch window had to take into account not just the launch time, but also the return journey. It is better to land during daylight, so the re-entry capsule and astronauts can be easily found. Other considerations were sunspot activity and space debris.
In 2003, China became the third country in the world to send a person into orbit. It followed this with a two-man mission in 2005.
The country aims to become a leader in space technology by building a comprehensive aerospace industry by 2015, China's Aerospace Science and Technology Corp said.
Six astronauts, Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng, the three named to take the Shenzhou VII task and their back-ups, moved to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gansu Province on September 21.
One of the three astronauts onboard Shenzhou VII will step out of the capsule and conduct a history-making space walk that will be telecast live.
(China.org.cn by Zhou Jing September 23, 2008)