China has made another great leap forward in their space program. At 2:05 GMT today, the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft landed safely in Inner Mongolia.
The capsule contained three Chinese taikonauts (astronauts), including Major Liu Yang, China’s first female taikonaut to go on a mission. The state press has nicknamed Major Liu Yang the “little Flying Knight,” which seems a wee bit condescending for such a brave pioneer.
The crew had been in space for 13 days and had docked with the Tiangong-1 space platform, the nucleus of what will become China’s space station by 2020. Above is a Wikimedia Commons diagram of Shenzhou-9 (right) docked with Tiangong-1 (left). The landing was broadcast live on state television.
As Chinese space missions become more common, the question becomes what to call their crews. The Chinese government doesn’t seem to be able to decide. Depending on the source and the language of the official statement, they’re variously referred to as astronauts, cosmonauts, “tàikōng rén” (“spacemen”) or taikonauts, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a hybrid of the Chinese term taikong (space) and the Greek naut (sailor).” Personally I think taikonaut sounds the coolest.
Want to learn more? Check out the Go Taikonauts! fan page.