The capsule launched at the beginning of November on board a Long March 2F rocket and returned safely 17 days later after completing two successful docking maneuvers with the already orbiting Tiangong 1 space laboratory.
No astronauts were onboard this time, however, sophisticated ‘dummies’ that simulate the metabolic functions (including respiration) of humans took their place, providing invaluable data regarding the life-support and environmental control systems of the space capsule.
It is another important step for the Chinese on their path to fulfilling their space ambitions of human spaceflight missions in 2012 to the Tiangong 1 Space Lab, and eventually having a 100ton Earth orbiting space station by the end of the decade.
Plans beyond this include a manned mission to the Moon by the 2030’s, requiring huge financial investment and more importantly hefty advances in current Chinese space technology. Not an easy dream to fulfill but one that appears to have backing right from the very top of Chinese politics, and a dream set to inspire the national pride of a nation.