Friday, September 25, 2009


A year ago today, China’s space ambitions took a big step forward with a spacewalk, taken by one of the three crew aboard the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft. China had become the third humans-in-space country five years before in 2003, when Shenzhou 5 carried the first Chinese taikonaut, air force pilot Yang Liwei. Shenzhou 6 followed in 2005.

Because of the difficulty of translating Chinese into English, various terms for their astronauts have been proffered, but ‘taikonaut’ - derived from ‘taikong’, Chinese for ‘space’ - is the one that has ended up in general use.

Getting details of the rockets and craft is not easy: it’s rather like getting information on Soviet rocketry in the Cold War years. However, the Shenzhou (‘Magic Vessel’ or ‘Divine Craft’) spacecraft is available as a 1:72 scale kit from Trumpeter, which is appropriate, as it is China’s main model kit company.

Shenzhou’s launcher is based on the long-running Chang Zheng, or ‘Long March’ rocket. Dragon, the Hong-Kong based model company, has issued two versions of the Chang Zheng CZ-2 to 1:48 scale, the CZ-2E satellite launcher and the CZ-2F Shenzhou launcher. At some 1220 mm (48 in) tall, the CZ-2F version is only a bit shorter than Revell’s 1:96 scale Saturn V, making it a contender as one of the world’s largest 'static space model' kits.

If you want a Chang Zheng rocket in the more widespread 1:144 rocket scale, Glenn Johnson’s RealSpace Models in the US offers a decent resin kit, complete with decals.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1 Trumpeter 1:72 scale Shenzhou spacecraft, mounted on an included planet Earth base, here painted with simulated cloud formations.
2 Dragon 1:48 scale CZ-2F launcher, compared with the RealSpace Models 1:144 scale version. Both come with base mounts.
2 RealSpace Models 1:144 scale CZ-2F resin kit box at left, with the built model in front. A 1:144 Airfix Space Shuttle at back gives an idea of the large scale of the Chinese launch system.

Visit RealSpace here, and Dragon here.

You can view the Trumpeter Shenzou at Hannants here.