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EXPLORATIONS - Novmber 19, 2003: China’s first astronaut / Voyager One / Solar flares and Mars Express - 2003-11-20


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VOICE ONE:

This is Faith Lapidus.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS from VOA Special English. Today we report about the twenty-six-year flight of two spacecraft named Voyager. We tell about problems with a spacecraft on its way to the planet Mars. And we begin with China’s successful launch of a human into orbit around the Earth.

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VOICE ONE:

Last month, China’s first astronaut left Earth and returned safely after fourteen orbits of our planet. Yang Liwei landed with his spacecraft in the Gobi Desert, in Inner Mongolia, on October Sixteenth. He was in flight for twenty-one hours.

China is now the third country after Russia and the United States to send a human in orbit around the Earth.

VOICE TWO:

China’s spacecraft is named the Shenzhou-Five. It was launched using China’s Long March Two-F rocket. The launch took place at the Jiuquan Space Center, one-thousand-six-hundred kilometers west of Beijing. After fourteenth orbits, the Shenzhou-Five slowed and began to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft was guided by four ships in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and southern Atlantic Ocean.

A Chinese spacecraft communications station in the African country of Namibia ordered the Shenzhou to fire rockets to slow its speed. It then flew over Africa and Pakistan. The spacecraft again fired rockets about two meters from the ground to soften the landing.

VOICE ONE:

China’s first astronaut is a thirty-eight year old pilot in the Chinese Air Force. He is from Liaoning Province, in northeast China. He joined the air force when he was eighteen years old. Yang Liwei was one of more than one-thousand air force pilots who competed to be China’s first human in space. Only fourteen were chosen for training.

American astronaut Edward Lu was a member of the crew of the International Space Station during Yang Liwei’s flight. Mister Lu’s mother and father were born in China. Mister Lu spoke to the astronaut in Chinese. He said: “Welcome to space. Have a safe journey and I wish you success.”

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VOICE TWO:

The United States launched the Voyager One and Voyager Two spacecraft in nineteen-seventy-seven. Some scientists believe Voyager One is now at the farthest edge of our solar system. It has become the first human-made object to travel past the influence of our Sun.

Other scientists say it has not reached the edge yet, but is close. Both groups say the evidence is confusing. In the past twenty-six years it has traveled more than thirteen-thousand-million kilometers from our Sun. NASA scientists say it is now entering an area called termination shock. That is an area at the edge of our solar system. They say it is where the Sun’s influence ends and an area between stars begins.In this area supersonic winds of charged particles from the Sun clash with gas and dust that fill the space between stars.

VOICE ONE:

Edward Stone of the California Institute of Technology is the top Voyager project scientist. He says Voyager One may take as long as three or four years to pass through the termination shock area and into the area of space between stars.

Mister Stone says the first evidence that Voyager One had passed into the termination shock area was received from Voyager in August. Scientific instruments on Voyager One sent information showing evidence that the spacecraft had entered a new environment.

This environment shows unusual solar winds and an unusual decrease in these solar winds. Solar winds are a kind of energy. They come from the surface of the Sun and travel out into space. Scientists say the solar winds move the termination shock area out and then back. The area does not stay in one place. Some scientists say the Voyager One has passed through the termination shock area while others say this is not permanent.

They believe the Voyager will re-enter the termination shock area because the area is moving out and back faster than the Voyager spacecraft. One of Voyager One’s scientific instruments could solve this argument. But that instrument has been broken since nineteen-eighty.

VOICE TWO:

Mister Stone says that Voyager One will continue to send information back to Earth until the year twenty-twenty if none of the equipment fails. Then it will lose power.

Voyager Two is more about three-thousand-million kilometers behind Voyager One. It has more working scientific instruments. Scientists agree that when it reaches the area called termination shock many more questions will be answered.

VOICE ONE:

The Voyager One and Two spacecraft were the first human objects to fly near and send back information about the planets Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn and Uranus. The two spacecraft provided the first close photographs and much valuable information about these planets. The two spacecraft have finished their main work but continue to send back useful information about the edge of our solar system.

Scientists say the Voyager spacecraft are traveling at a speed of more than sixty-one thousand kilometers an hour as they travel out into space. In time, the spacecraft will pass other stars. However, space experts say that even at this great speed, it will be more than forty-thousand years before either Voyager travels near the influence of another star.

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VOICE TWO:

In the past several weeks, scientists have been watching unusual activity on the surface of the Sun. Three huge sunspots appeared. Each one was larger than the planet Jupiter. The sunspots caused solar flares, huge explosions of matter near the sunspot. The explosions force huge amounts of energy into space.

VOICE ONE:

Eleven solar flares were reported in only fourteen days. The solar flares caused problems with radio communications. The same solar flares also entered Earth’s upper atmosphere. The energy produced by the flares exposed astronauts and some air travelers to a small amount of radiation. This was about the same amount of radiation that a medical chest-X-ray would produce.

VOICE TWO:

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft suffered temporary damage from the solar flares. The flares damaged the equipment that guides the spacecraft through space. The Mars Express finds it way through space by observing two stars. This equipment keeps the spacecraft traveling on its planned direction.

The Mars Express could not see the two stars for more than fifteen hours because of the solar flares. Researchers with the European Space Agency say the Mars Express mission is now back to normal. The solar flares also prevented a study of the spacecraft’s Mars lander, named the Beagle Two. The flares delayed the test, but caused no damage to the Beagle Two.

VOICE ONE:

The Mars Express is to orbit the planet Mars beginning December twenty-fifth. The Beagle lander is to fly to the surface soon after. The Beagle will look for evidence of water. The Mars Express is just one of four spacecraft from three countries that will arrive at Mars by January, two-thousand-four. Japan’s Nozomi craft is expected at Mars in the middle of December. Then NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are to arrive in January.

VOICE TWO:

In August, tests of the Mars Rovers showed that one of their science instruments was not working correctly. However, experts were able to make the instruments use different methods of collecting information. The instruments will be used to find the mineral iron in rocks and soil.

Researchers say the instruments will return good information if they do not suffer any more problems. The researchers say the problems may have been caused by the huge amount of pressure produced when the spacecraft were launched.

The Spirit Rover is to land near Mars’ Gusev Crater on January fourth. Three weeks later, the Opportunity Rover will land in an area called Meridiani Planum on the opposite side of Mars. Each Rover will examine its landing area for evidence about the history of water on the planet. The information is needed for scientists to decide if life could have existed on Mars.

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VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Paul Thompson and produced by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in Special English on the Voice of America.

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