March 26, 2002
The Chinese Are Next

China keeps beavering away at its own manned space program. According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the program is based on an improved Soyuz system aquired from the Russians and then improved on by the Chinese. Details are very murky (anyone with more information? Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?), so it could be a clone of Soyuz or it could be a big improvement. Nobody knows. I'll try to find a pic of their VAB. It looks exactly like a 3/5ths scale model of NASA's.

And don't make fun of them for gassing it up and lighting it off empty to test it. As related in a previous story on this web site, that's how NASA did it until the shuttle. And the only reason they didn't do it with the shuttle was because that system is so complex it couldn't be completely automated.

Soyuz was the manned part of the Russian's moon program, the part that actually worked. They've been using it with various improvements since the mid-60s. Makes you wonder, if NASA hadn't sold Nixon on the shuttle (New Tech! New Jobs!), would we still be flinging people into orbit using Apollo capsules and Saturn IB variants today?

Whatever happened to the Saturn IB anyway? The Saturn V was a gargantuan booster, so big we still don't need that kind of lift capability if we just want to get into orbit. But the IB was a different bird, and I imagine it would be quite useful in today's aerospace environment.

Posted by scott at March 26, 2002 09:39 AM

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