Shuguang (spacecraft)

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Shuguang One (Chinese: 曙光一号), meaning "dawn" in Mandarin, also known as Project 714 (Chinese: 七一四工程), was the first manned spacecraft proposed by the People's Republic of China during the late 1960s and early 1970s that was never built. The design was for a two-man capsule, similar to the American Gemini spacecraft, that could be launched in 1973. Because of financial and political problems, Shuguang was cancelled on May 13, 1972.

Early development[edit]

As the Chinese space program developed during the sixties, various proposals for manned spacecraft were made. Serious planning began in 1966, with initial sub-orbital test flights with animals to be made before a manned mission.[1] However, shortly after these plans were made, several leading scientists attached to the project were denounced during the Cultural Revolution, bringing progress to a standstill.

Planning[edit]

Gemini 7 in orbit in 1965. The Shuguang spacecraft would have closely resembled the Gemini spacecraft

As the Cold War space race for the Moon between the USSR and the USA reached its climax, the Chinese leaders in direct ideological conflict with the revisionist line of Nikita Khrushchev and therefore competing for the leadership of the communist world, decided not to give up the Moon and outer space to the only two superpowers.

Thus, Chairman Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai decided on July 14, 1967 to start China's own manned space program.[2] China first manned spacecraft was named Shuguang-1 (曙光一号) in January 1968。[3] China's Space Medical Institute (航天医学工程研究所) was founded on April 1, 1968, where space medical research were conducted. The Central Military Commission issued the order of starting the selection of astronauts among the People's Liberation Army Air Force pilots. The criteria of selection were: 1.59 to 1.74 meters high, 24 to 38 years of age, 55 to 70 kg and 300 hours of flight time. At the end of 1969, after two months of selection and after the screening of 1918 pilots, 215 primary candidate were selected. Then a second phase of screening based on flying techniques, psychological, physiological and general medical examination criteria left only 88 candidates remaining. Dedication to Chinese revolutionary political ideas were also a determinant factor.[1] 19 astronauts were chosen when the screening process ended on March 15, 1971, including Lu Xiangxiao, Wang Zhiyue, Dong Xiaohai and Fang Guojun. During a conference in April 1971, it was decided that the spacecraft should follow the design of the two-man American Gemini craft, and the program was deemed "Project 714" after the year and month of the conference. The astronauts were to begin training in November 1971, with the first mission planned for 1973. The Shuguang craft was developed for this purpose and was planned to be launched on the CZ-2A rocket.

New Space Center[edit]

In order to support the Chinese 'Project 714' manned space program in the 1960s, the construction of a new space center at Xichang in the Sichuan province was decided, located farther from the Soviet border, thus safer. The 'Shuguang One' spacecraft was expected to be launched from the launch pad number one. After the cancellation of the program the launch pad was never completed. Today a viewing platform for officials has been built at the site.[4]

Cancellation[edit]

Due to the secrecy of the project and its low priority within the Chinese government, funding for Project 714 was meager. When Mao himself was asked to allocate more funds towards the project, he declared that the state must be concerned with terrestrial needs first.[1] Because of the lack of funding, the astronauts were released from the project and sent back to their units. On May 13, 1972, the last staff member attached to Project 714 returned to his unit, and the project was officially canceled. During the late 1970s and 1980s, official announcements were made that China's manned space program was continuing, however, no significant amount of work was done, and these announcements were only propaganda.[1]

Design of the Shuguang craft[edit]

The actual Shuguang vehicle would have closely resembled the Gemini spacecraft, however, the Shuguang would have been lighter and smaller to allow it to be launched by the CZ-2A, which had a maximum payload of 3200 kilograms. The two crewmembers would have been seated in a pressurized crew compartment fitted with ejection seats (in case of an abort scenario) and instruments.[5] The aft section of the spacecraft would have been fitted with orientation engines, propellant tanks and other pieces of hardware. The crew section would have separated from the aft section for reentry, which would have been in the form of a splashdown, as there was no soft-landing system designed for the vehicle.[1]

Legacy[edit]

Nonetheless, after eight years of development, a fleet of Yuanwang-class space tracking ships for recovery of re-entry vehicles at sea was built. The Space Flight Medical Research Centre was founded in Beijing. Recoverable space capsules of the FSW-class, EVA spacesuits,[6][7][8] space food, space tracking stations and radars, astronaut selection process and training and related facilities were developed, laying the ground for the successful 921 manned space program (Shenzhou) that followed three decades later.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Shuguang 1". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  2. ^ "首批航天员19人胜出 为后来积累了宝贵的经验". 雷霆万钧. September 16, 2005. Retrieved July 24, 2008. 
  3. ^ "第一艘无人试验飞船发射成功—回首航天路". cctv.com. October 5, 2005. Retrieved August 2, 2007. 
  4. ^ "百人大厅静得能听见掉下一根针". Shanghai Morning Post. 22 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  5. ^ "中国计划开展载人航天 首批航天员开始选拔(图)". 雷霆万钧. September 16, 2005. Retrieved July 24, 2008. 
  6. ^ "为中华航天史册再添辉煌". 国防科工委新闻宣传中心. November 14, 2005. Retrieved July 22, 2008. 
  7. ^ "航天服充压实验". 雷霆万钧. September 19, 2005. Retrieved July 24, 2008. 
  8. ^ "中国最早研制的航天服为桔黄色 重10千克". 雷霆万钧. September 16, 2005. Retrieved July 24, 2008.