It’s only been 14 years since China sent its first astronauts to space, but a lot has been accomplished in that short time.
Plans for China’s manned missions began in the early 1990s with the development of the SHENZHOU series spacecraft. China adapted the design of its spacecraft from the Russian Soyuz vessel.
After a series of test flights between 1999-2002, SHENZHOU-5 launched on October 15, 2003 from the Jiquan Space Center in the Gobi desert. Yang Liwei, a former fighter pilot, became China’s first astronaut in space.
During Yang’s 21-hour flight, he orbited the Earth 14 times, before landing safely in Northern China.
Yang’s Shenzhou mission made China the third nation after Russia and the United States to send an astronaut into space.
Leaders from around the world applauded China’s milestone. At a celebration in the Great Hall, Yang was awarded with the unique title of “SPACE HERO.”
After Shenzhou-5, China’s space program continued with a series of landmark achievements.
In October, 2016, Shenzhou-11 carried two astronauts to the Tiangong-2 space lab, where they worked for 33 days on a wide variety of science experiments. The astronauts set the record for China’s longest manned mission in space.
China is planning a Shenzhou 12 mission, but hasn’t announced a launch date.
Meanwhile, another Shenzhou vessel may be hurtling in space before then. CBS television has announced Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh will captain a fictional USS Shenzhou in the next Star Trek series.