China’s astronauts have braved the tension of docking with a space station and performed delicate tasks outside their orbiting capsule, but now face a more down-to-earth job that is perhaps equally challenging: Talking to young people about science.
Three Chinese astronauts will take flight this week, on Tuesday if weather permits, aboard a Shenzhou spacecraft to the dock with China’s Tiangong 1 space lab. On the heels of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s wildly popular YouTube videos from the International Space Station, the Chinese crew plans to deliver a series of talks to students from aboard the Tiangong.
The lectures come as China’s human space program enters its second decade, after going from a simple manned flight to space lab link-ups in a series of methodically timed steps in just 10 years. Meanwhile, its American rival appears adrift in search of new missions, lacking in political backing and uninterested in collaborating with China.
“China is in space for the long haul. The U.S. ignoring that and refusing to work with China will neither stop them nor slow them down,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on the Chinese space program at the U.S. Naval War College.
The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft—its name means “sacred vessel”—is to be launched aboard a Long March 2F rocket, a safer and more reliable version of that used in previous missions. It will transport the crew for a 12-day stay aboard the Tiangong 1, which functions as an experimental prototype for a much larger Chinese space station to be launched in 2020.
The space classrooms mark the boldest step so far to bring the military-backed program into the lives of ordinary Chinese and follows in the footsteps of NASA, which used student outreach to inspire interest in space exploration and sustain support for its budgets. Thus far, Chinese astronauts have been paraded before the public at rallies and other events, but they’ve had almost no genuine interaction with ordinary Chinese.
Read more at: Phys.org