China's Spacecraft Progress

China launched its first unstaffed spacecraft from the Jiuquan Space Center in Gansu province on Nov. 19, 1999. The space capsule, named Shenzhou (“Divine Ship”), made 14 orbits of Earth in 21 hours before landing in Inner Mongolia.

The Shenzhou spacecraft are prototypes for future manned Chinese spacecraft. A small menagerie of passengers on board Shenzhou II (launched Jan. 9, 2001), including a rabbit, a dog, and a monkey, survived the shuttle's space-flight unharmed. The subsequent success of Shenzhou III, which was equipped with dummy astronauts and human physical monitoring sensors, further enhanced China's hopes of having Chinese taikonauts take their place in space next to Russia's cosmonauts and America's astronauts by 2005. Shenzhou III was launched from Jiuquan on March 25, 2002, and spent a week in orbit before landing, as had its predecessors, in Inner Mongolia.

In 2003, China sent their first man to space. They met their goal of sending two Chinese taikonauts into space in 2005. China successfully launched its third manned spacecraft, Shenzhou-7, in 2008. Three astronauts were on board for the country's first-ever space walk. The next step, the setup of space labs manned by scientists, should set the stage for the eventual construction of a permanent Chinese space station.