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China launched its 1st unmanned Cargo Spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country’s space station

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Long March-7 rocket carrying Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft lifts off from the launching pad in Wenchang, Hainan province, China, April 20, 2017. VOA

China on Thursday launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country’s space station, marking further progress in the ambitious Chinese space program.

The Tianzhou 1 blasted off at 7:41 p.m. (1141 GMT) atop a latest-generation Long March 7 rocket from China’s newest spacecraft launch site, Wenchang, on the island province of Hainan.

Minutes later, as the spacecraft cleared the atmosphere, the mission was declared a success by administrators at ground control on the outskirts of Beijing.

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It is programmed to conduct scientific experiments after reaching the now-crewless Tiangong 2, China’s second space station. A pair of Chinese astronauts spent 30 days on board the station last year.

China launched the Tiangong 2 precursor facility in September and the station’s 20-ton core module will be launched next year. The completed 60-ton station is set to come into full service in 2022 and operate for at least a decade.

Communications with the earlier, disused Tiangong 1 experimental station were cut last year and it is expected to burn up on entering the atmosphere.

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China was excluded from the 420-ton International Space Station mainly due to U.S. legislation barring such cooperation and concerns over the Chinese space program’s strong military connections.

Chinese officials are now looking to internationalize their own program by offering to help finance other countries’ missions to Tiangong 2.

Since China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, it has staged a spacewalk and landed its Jade Rabbit rover on the moon. A mission to land another rover on Mars and bring back samples is set to launch in 2020, while China also plans to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the moon.

The two-stage, medium lift Long March 7 is expected to form the backbone of China’s rocket fleet, and burns a fuel combination that is safer and more environmentally friendly.

It is tasked with the launch of the Shenzhou capsules that have carried out six crewed missions and, along with the heavy lift Long March 5, is key to the assembly of the Tiangong 2. (VOA)

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New Virus Can Spread Through Human Contact: China

China: Possible That New Virus Could Spread Between Humans

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Security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan wholesale seafood market, where health authorities say a man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods from, in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, China. VOA

The possibility that a new virus in central China could spread between humans cannot be ruled out, though the risk of transmission at the moment appears to be low, Chinese officials said Wednesday.

Forty-one people in the city of Wuhan have received a preliminary diagnosis of a novel coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause both the common cold and more serious diseases. A 61-year-old man with severe underlying conditions died from the coronavirus on Saturday.

While preliminary investigations indicate that most of the patients had worked at or visited a particular seafood wholesale market, one woman may have contracted the virus from her husband, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a public notice.

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Commuters wear protection masks inside a subway train in Hong Kong, China. VOA

The commission said the husband, who fell ill first, worked at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Meanwhile, the wife said she hasn’t had any exposure to the market.

It’s possible that the husband brought home food from the market that then infected his wife, Hong Kong health official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at a news briefing. But because the wife did not exhibit symptoms until days after her husband, it’s also possible that he infected her.

Chuang and other Hong Kong health officials spoke to reporters Wednesday following a trip to Wuhan, where mainland Chinese authorities briefed them on the outbreak.

The threat of human-to-human transmission remains low, Chuang said, as hundreds of people, including medical professionals, have been in close contact with infected individuals and have not been infected themselves.

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She echoed Wuhan authorities’ assertion that there remains no definitive evidence of human-to-human transmission.

The outbreak in Wuhan has raised the specter of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS is a type of coronavirus that first struck southern China in late 2002. It then spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800 people. (VOA)