Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ground control to major exhibition

As I mentioned before, China's space program has landed in our little corner of Hong Kong. A display of rocket models, space paraphernalia ranging from a toilet (er...) to a space capsule and informational signs have been set up in CityPlaza for the last month.

Most of that time, I was in the United States of Awesome. But last week, as it was raining for the fifth (or sixth? I lost count) consecutive day, Mrs. Blog and I decided to do a little mallwalking in space. Or spacewalking in the mall. Whatever, we went to look at the exhibit.

Visitors are greeted by six giant models of China's launchers. Five of them are for unmanned projects; one of those five still has not been launched because it is awaiting a facility large enough to accommodate it. One was used for the Shenzhou manned program.

 What's white and red and flies all over?

A bit down the hall, there is a smattering of additional models, plus some real, live hardware. Here's what the Shenzhou capsule stack looks like, with service and docking modules on either end:

Big, but not as big as the real thing.

Next to it was a model of the Tiangong assembly, which was used to perform tests of in-orbit docking:

Like a mobile home in the stars.

It will be used as a basis for China's planned space station program. Next to it (and behind the model in the second photo) there was an escape tower for a Shenzhou capsule that actually flew. The tower is discarded after the rocket hits a certain speed and altitude. Before that, it can accelerate the manned portion of the rocket--the capsule--if there is an emergency.

Also on display were random items from everyday life in space: food pouches, the aforementioned toilet, a sleeping bag, canteens, and my personal favorite, the space tray:

You know it's a space tray because it's decorated with an astronaut!

And finally, the main event. I posted a picture of this before when they were setting up the exhibit, but now the real, only-been-used-once Shenzhou capsule is all prettified, with glittering rocks underfoot, a spacesuit standing guard and its parachute draped overhead:

 One small capsule for three people. One giant leap for the Chinese space program.

Overall, an impressive setup. China has come a long way in a short amount of time; of course, its space program also has benefited greatly from all the space exploration of the last 60 years, so the nation's scientists know what works and what doesn't, and how to do it right. The Chinese also have universities that can train rocket scientists and the resources to build those rockets. Theoretically, they have a high ceiling indeed.

But I remain optimistic the U.S. will win the race for a mall exhibit of Mars landings.

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