UPDATE: Due to a clerical error at Space Imaging, the image first posted here 11:25 a.m., October 11, 2005 was not Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 3. The correct image has been added to this story and our Zoom Viewer.
BOULDER, Colorado -- A commercial remote sensing spacecraft has caught Chinese space workers readying their second piloted space mission.
The Ikonos satellite, operated by Space Imaging of Thornton, Colorado, took images of China's human spaceflight launch complex on October 3 and 6 and on October 9, with a shadow covering much of the rocket between two structures. The very tip of the rocket can be seen emerging from the shadow.
Launch of the Long March booster topped by the Shenzhou 6 is expected soon, according to several of China's news services. The craft reportedly will carry two astronauts, with liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province.
No official word as yet as to the names of the two space travelers that will conduct the Shenzhou 6 mission, but a Chinese newspaper identified the pilot as Fei Junlong and said he would be accompanied by Nie Haisheng. The report by the Chongqing Morning Post didn't cite a source. The spacecraft will return to the main landing field in the central part of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Chinese space officials have reportedly stated.
The two-person flight of Shenzhou 6 will expand the flight parameters of the solo Shenzhou 5 mission. The near-at-hand space trek will reportedly be longer. Also, the crew will enter into the craft's orbital module--a segment attached to the reentry portion of the vehicle. They will live and work for several days within the orbital module.
The upcoming flight marks the second piloted space mission for China. Two years ago, astronaut Yang Liwei became the first person of his nation to travel into Earth orbit.
China's entry into human spaceflight puts that nation into an exclusive club--the third country to have independent means to propel people into orbit. The former Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into Earth orbit in April 1961. U.S. astronaut, John Glenn, was orbited in February 1962. Yang was boosted into orbit in October 2003.
Western experts expect that this second Shenzhou flight will further shakeout spacecraft systems, life support hardware, and also hone piloting skills. A subsequent mission could involve spacewalking with Chinese space officials noting that a space station complex is also being planned.
- ZOOM View: Close in on Shenzhou 6 on its Launch Pad
- Shenzhou Rising: China's Second Manned Spaceflight