Shenzhou 5 (神舟五号) was launched October 15, 2003 from Jiuquan Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, located in the northern part of China. It is also known as Shuang Cheng Tzu. The Chinese state the launch site is in the Chinese Gansu province, however space experts indicate the site is just across the border with Inner Mongolia. The launched occurred at 9 am Beijing time (0100 GMT). It was the first Chinese manned launch.
On board for the historic mission was Yang Liwei.
China had been hinting that the launch would occur just after the end of the Chinese Communist Party Conference which ended on October 14. The launch time was then announced by an unlikely source - a travel agent who was organising trips to the launch. It said that it would occur just after sunrise at the launch site.
China was also shadowy as to the identity of the first taikonaut. Photos had appeared over the previous months of several people wearing spacesuits. It was known that 14 candidates had been selected and this group was whittled down to three. These three made a 'public' appearance in front of engineers on October 10. Reports appeared stating that this group of three did not contain Li Qinglong and Wu Jie, who had received training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia in 1997. It was not until the day before launch that it was announed that the first taikonaut would be Yang Liwei, with the other two candidates being Zhai Zhigang, and Nie Haisheng.
The mission profile was announced about 5 days before launch. Speculation had suggested that it would probably be similar to that of the first test flight of the Shenzhou spacecraft in 1999. This was confirmed by an unnamed official in charge of the country's manned spaceflight program, who said that Shenzhou 5 and its occupant would be in space for 21 hours or 14 orbits.
It had also been announed prior to the flight that the launch would be shown live on Chinese television. This got many western sources excited but then the plans were scuttled. The speculation is that the political side of China wanted to have live footage, while the military which is really paranoid about secrets and security would not allow it. And the People's Liberation Army run the space program so it is easy to see why they won.
The launch was watched by the highest people in the Chinese regime. These included President Hu Jintao and former leader Jiang Zemin, who was the main mover behind the 11-year old manned space program.
One interesting aspect of the launch that had not been made public during previous launches of the CZ-2F rocket is that it ejects a black box which is recovered downrange from the launch site. The black box contains information that could not be transmitted during launch. Two reasons are possible for this. It may be that there just isn't enough bandwidth in the downlink for all the information. The other possibility is that the PLA does not want military secrets to be transmitted.
Little was announced as to what Wang would be doing throughout the flight. The 'generic' items were probably tests of systems, instruments, and a limited number experiments for the scientific community and the military are possible items on the itinerary. It is believed that the Orbital Module of the Shenzhou carries ELINT equipment. This is important to the Chinese who have yet to launch any unmanned ELINT satelltes. It is expected that Wang photographed the Earth.
It is known that in the descent module were packets containing various types of seeds. These are probably more for propaganda purposes as they were not exposed to a large amount of radiation and their time in space of 21 hours would have not affected them greatly. The main reason for carrying them is believed to be the fact that some came from Taiwan, with the Chinese leadership hoping that it would increase ties with the Island.
One thing that was made public was what he had for his meals. These were rice, spicy and sour shredded meat, and diced chicken meat. He also had a serving of medicinal herbs and tonics. After his meal he then took at three hour nap.
The mission came to ended at 6:23 a.m Beijing Time (2223 GMT), when the capsule touched down in the Siziwang area some 300 kilometres northwest of the capital Beijing, only 4.8 kilometers from the targeted touchdown site in Inner Mongolia. Although looking slightly dazed, Yang was in good health and reported that "The spaceship operated well. I feel very good and I am proud of my motherland."
The reentry profile was the same as that on the previous unmanned tests. First the orbital module was jettisoned. This section has its own thrusters and solar panels and can operate autonomously for 6 months. The retrofire was then preformed and the propulsion module was jettisoned.
All this was down automatically from signals transmitted from the ground (though there is probably provision for the crew to preform the tasks in an emergency). This signals were sent at 5:36 a.m. Beijing time (2136 GMT). Firstly the Orbital Module was jettisoned, followed by retrofire at 2138 GMT. The propulsion module seperated a minute later. The start of the communications blackout came at 2204 GMT.
After the landing Yang emerged from the capsule and was helped to a waiting chair by the recovery crews who arrived in five helicopters and some 14 vans who had arrived 10 minutes after he landed. He was then lifted to the a waiting helicoptor which took him to a local airport where he boarded a plane for a two hour flight to Beijing. There he met with his family and the waiting media and officials.