China First Manned Space Mission Program in 1960s

I am sure that everyone knows that the first Chinese manned mission was Shenzhou 5 launched on October 15, 2003 in which Yang Liwei (杨利伟) became the first Chinese astronaut (or hangtianyuan). But you may not know that China started (and failed) the first manned program (Project 714) back in 1960s. The name of the program was “Shuguang” meaning the dawn time. The following is the story.

In 1964, just year after Great Chinese Famine, China made significant progress in the development of missile and nuclear weapons while the Unite States and Soviet Unions were in Space Race. On Jan. 8, 1965, Qian Xuesen (钱学森) proposed to develop heavier manned satellite even though it was not clear to him what kind of future it would be. In August, 1965, Chinese government approved a ten-year plan of Chinese space program: In 1969 or 1970, two satellites would be launched; then after 10 years, first spacecraft would be launched. The names of them were “Dayuejin” (大跃进) meaning “The Great Leap Forward”. For this goal, China initiated almost 200 projects. One day in 1967, Qian said that the government had approved the name of the first manned spacecraft to be “Shuguang spacecraft” (曙光号).

In its early design plan, China wanted to send five astronauts to space because they want to beat the United States and Soviet Union. Mao Zedong ironically said of the first American satellite was just a potato. But Qian insisted to a two or three people plan.

Meanwhile, a launch site needed to be determined. Originally, Yuexi, Sichuan province (四川越西) was chosen. But power supply and transportation were big obstacles. In June 1970, Xichang (西昌) was chosen as the launch site. This candidate was reported the central government on July 29, 1970. It was approved on October 14. This was named “7201” meaning that the major development before 1972. It is the current Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

At the same time, a group of astronaut candidates were selected and trained secretly. 19 of them were finally chosen out of 1918 PLA fighter pilots. Among them were Lu Xiangxiao (鲁祥孝), Wang Zhiyue (王志跃), Dong Xiaohai (董小海) and Fang Guojun (方国俊). But none of them knew where they would be launched from. The people at Xichang didn’t know about the astronaut training either.

The program was canceled on May 13,1972 due to financial and political problems.


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