A computer-generated picture of the Tiangong 1 in orbit. The module's designer desribes it assimilar to an economy Chinese apartment. (Photo/Xinhua)
China's Tiangong 1 space laboratory, which was successfully launched into orbit on Sept. 29, is described by its chief designer Zhang Bonan as an economic apartment in space.
Six Chinese astronauts who recently visited the facility had previously told Beijing's Science and Technology Daily that it was like a luxury villa in comparison with the simple spacecraft that they had previously flown in around the earth.
Zhang, who led astronauts to view the lab before it was launched into space, said it could not be called a villa by any stretch of the imagination. The module, whose name translates as "heavenly palace," more closely resembles an economy apartment for ordinary people in China, he said.
He told the paper that the lab, with a diameter of 3.35 meters and a length of 10.4 meters, consisted solely of a service module and a science lab.
The service module provided power and provisions while the science lab with inner area of 40 cubic meters, including 15 cubic meters to accommodate the astronauts, would serve as their workplace and living quarters, according to Zhang.
With a weight of 8.5 tons, Zhang said the Tiangong lab was much smaller than the space labs launched by the US and now defunct Soviet Union but rivaled them in function.
The front end of the space lab is a docking port to connect with the soon to be unveiled Shenzhou 8 spacecraft. With a diameter of just 80cm, it will also serve as the door for astronauts to enter the space lab from the docked craft, Zhang said.
The science lab contains an airtight compartment for experiments and in their quarters there is a stationary bicycle for astronauts to exercise and a massage machine to keep them fit while in space.
To help astronauts keep their bearings, Zhang said, the floor of the lab was covered with yellow lining while the ceiling was covered with white lining to signify the ground and the sky.
At the front of the science module there is a small circular window through which the astronauts can view the Earth and space, Zhang said.
Tiangong 1 天宮一號