China’s Most Ambitious Mission Captured In Stunning Images

Shenzhou 9's Long March 2F arrives at its Jiuquan launch pad in the Gobi desert. Photo Credit: AFP

China’s June 16 launch of the Shenzhou 9 mission on a Long March 2F rocket marks a highly colorful week at the Jiuquan Launch Center in the Gobi desert.

We present a picture summary here of the immediate events leading up to the launch of Shenzhou 9 and China’s first woman astronaut on a mission packed with challenging flight operations. In a coincidence the flight launched on the 49th anniversary of the launch of the first woman in orbit, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. But that historic point pales compared with the priorities of this mission.

The 203 ft. tall Long March 2F carrying Shenzhou 9 lifts off on 1.33 million lb. thrust. Photo Credit: China Daily

The major milestones the Shenzhou 9 mission is achieving are:

–First Chinese woman in space.

–First Chinese manned mission to occupy a prototype space station, the Tiangong 1.

–First Chinese manually piloted space docking after auto dock initially.

—First Chinese long duration flight, planned for up to 14 days in space.

—First Chinese astronaut to fly his second space mission.

Sequence shows liftoff and initial climbout of the ambitious Shenzhou 9 mission to the Tiangong 1 prototype station module. Photo Credit: CNTV

People’s Liberation Army Air Force Maj. Liu Yang, 33, China’s first woman astronaut is the medical officer on the flight joining  mission commander Jing Haipeng and flight engineer Liu Wang.

China's first woman astronaut Maj. Liu Yang, 33, in her "Sokol" spacesuit headed to the launch pad and into Chinese history. Photo Credit: Xinhua

Commander Jing is making his second flight into space. He was on Shenzhou 7, the last Chinese manned flight in 2008, so he is making back-to-back flights,  a rare event in the U. S. or Russian space programs let alone on only the fourth Chinese manned mission. The other two crew members have the same last name “Liu” which is very common in China, but the two are not related. As is the Chinese custom on formal names, the last name is mentioned first.

The crew will auto dock to Tiangong 1 on Monday June 18, then spend several days linked, sleeping two at a time in the more spacious prototype station. They will then undock and make a manual approach and docking, a very critical maneuver for further space station development. They are expected to spend up to 14 days in orbit including additional time in the Tiangong after the second docking.

China hopes to build a 60 ton Chinese station by 2020, compared with the  current 431 ton International Space Station planned to be still operational after 2020.

Long March 2F for China's Shenzhou 9 flight is pictured on its rail mounted Mobile Launch Platform inside the Jiuquan Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Photo Credit : China Ministry of Defense

China plans to launch the Tiangong 2 prototype station in 2013, and its first crew is planned to include China’s second woman astronaut PLA Capt. Wang Yaping, rapid progress for a country that still has to put up billboards in the countryside telling the population to cherish girl babies.

The 1 million lb. Long March 2F carrying Shenzhou 9 emerges from the Chinese VAB. Photo Credit: Xinhua
Like Kennedy Space Center in the Gobi Desert of desolate northwest China the 203 ft. rocket dwarfs onlookers who appear as ants looking down from launch pad service tower. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty
Bye! The Shenzhou crew waves so long to a top Chinese Communist Party Official before departing for the pad. Photo Credit:
From left Liu Yang, Jing Haipeng, and Liu Wang salute their Chinese People's Liberation Army superiors. Photo Credit:
Eight Long March 2F engines generating more than 1.33 million lb. thrust push the 203 ft. 1 million lb. space vehicle off the pad and into China's history books. Photo Credit:






  1. I feel the excitement again of the kind I felt during the Apollo Missions all those years ago.
    These are wonderful imges of ‘Take off’. Now we can look forward to the ‘On Flight’ photography.
    Thank you China and Best of Luck with this programme.

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