In recent days the public at large has been exposed to events that were deliberately kept secret for days and even weeks by our federal government. For instance, this week we learned that a U.S. drone had been fired upon by Iranian Jets and yesterday we learned that a decorated army general and head of the C.I.A. David Petraeus was under the watching eyes of the F.B.I. Today, as we learn that the U.S. Air Force engages in secretive flights of robotic X-37B mini-shuttle, we are also made aware of a major former Chinese secret; the Shenlong and Shenzhou-10.
Last year several Chinese media outlets reported a test flight of the Shenlong space plane that apparently included its airdrop from an H-6 bomber. But the nature of the Shenlong project’s testing, as well as what the robot vehicle truly represents, remains sketchy.
Several China watchers in the U.S. have taken a stab at what the Shenlong (Mandarin for “Divine Dragon) might mean, with some experts conjecturing that the craft is simply a tit-for-tat response to the unmanned X-37B space plane.
Now it appears that that theory is wrong and China is really aiming to do is to launch its next manned space mission as early as June 2013, as the country steps up its ambitious exploration program.
The Shenzhou-10, with three crew members, is aiming for a primary launch window in June, Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the manned space program, told China National Radio in an interview Friday.
Niu, speaking on the sidelines of China’s 18th Communist Party Congress that kicked off Thursday, November 8, in Beijing, said officials had identified a back-up launch window for July or August.
He said one of the three astronauts would likely be a woman.
China sent its first female astronaut, Liu Yang, into space earlier this year on the Shenzhou-9 in the country’s first manual space docking mission.
The docking procedure was a major milestone in the country’s ambitious space program that has a goal of building a space station by the end of the decade.
In its last white paper on space, China said it was working towards landing a man on the moon, but did not specify a time-frame.
So far only the United States has achieved that feat, most recently in 1972.
Beijing has said it will also attempt to land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time in the second half of 2013 and transmit back a survey of the lunar surface.
China sees its space program as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
The country sent its first man into space in 2003. It completed a space walk in 2008 and an unmanned docking between a module and rocket last year.
China’s goal appears to be to have its own space station by 2020.
This news may shed light on why Google’s site kept crashing in China for the last week as they may have been trying to keep a lid of this development. But then again, knowing how China operates, this too could simply be a smoke screen to cover their true intentions.