Spaceflight without Spacecraft

As most people are aware, China's space programme has advanced at an extraordinary rate over the last few years. Chinese engineers now have formidable experience when it comes to launching satellites, they're working towards establishing a base on the moon and they are currently planning a series of missions to Mars. They've even successfully managed to land an astronaut in Tibet, although this was admittedly an error, after he got on the wrong bus.

All this is, of course, horrendously expensive and like its overseas counterparts the Chinese Space Agency is continually searching for ways to bring down mission costs. Hitherto work has focussed on the development of reusable hardware and for a while the agency had some success with a system that involved catching spent rocket boosters in a giant butterfly net. But now Chinese scientists have decided to abandon this approach. In fact, they've decided to abandon spacecraft altogether and are now concentrating on firing astronauts directly into space.

"It is the simplest and most economic approach," said an official state spokesman. "We keep weight down to the bare minimum, the payload can be carried in a backpack and we've still got the butterfly net, so it's no problem trying to catch them on the way down."

The exact means of propulsion remains unknown, although satellite images show what appears to be a giant circus cannon at Wenchang. And Chinese authorities have yet to release any information concerning successful launches. As far as we understand it, the programme has been in operation for about eighteen months and so far the highest altitude reached has been ten thousand metres, some distance short of what is required to achieve orbit.

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