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First Manned Mission Threatened by Communication Blackout
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Chinese aerospace experts saved the country's first ever manned space mission as the spaceship was faced with lethal impact while flying through the communications blackout area before landing.


The Xi'an Satellite Monitor and Control Center released recently for the first time the danger met by the spacecraft, Shenzhou V, and China's first astronaut Yang Liwei.


Dong Deyi, head of the Xi'an center, said in an interview with Xinhua that Yang lost every means to contact with the ground command and control headquarters as soon as entering in the aerosphere, which fell in the worst case scenario prepared by the space mission team.


Every spacecraft would be covered by plasma as running through the aerosphere, according to experts. The plasma obstructs communications between spacecraft and command and control center on the ground.


"Even radar could not capture any signal from the returning module," Dong said.


After the Shenzhou V went out of the blackout area, Dong said, the echo signals from the spaceship were still volatile which sufficiently threaten a safe landing of astronaut Yang.


The Xi'an center, which is responsible for every landing of the Shenzhou spaceships since 1999, ordered implementation of the optical guiding and tracking system instead of communication-guided landing control, Dong said.


The aerospace technologists used cinetheodolites on the ground to measure spacecraft position and record the movement of the Shenzhou V. Precise positioning of the spacecraft enabled officers to properly control the slow-down parachute which was vital to a soft landing.


However, the landing spot was nine kilometers east of the previously planned location, Dong said, citing that the rescue team reached astronaut Yang 12 minutes after his successful landing.


China began its clandestine manned space program in 1992, which was coded as the 921 Project. Since then, China has spent at least 20 billion yuan (US$2.64 billion) in the project and sent three astronauts into orbit.


(Xinhua News Agency August 13, 2007)

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