China has an impressive space programme and they have made a couple of large steps over the last few years. They developed their own launchers, space capsules and spacesuits. This was helped with outside knowledge. The Chinese have has access to Russian technology during the development, during the 神舟-7 spacewalk they used a spacesuit bought from Russia. But they have also developed a design of their own. The interesting thing about the Chinese space programme is the long interval betwen manned launches. The Chinese approach each flight as a new project, each flight marking a next step. From a single man flight, to a multi-man mission, to a spacewalk, to a spacedocking to their own space station. All in 4 flights.
So you would expect the Chinese to be very proud of their achievements and to show it to the world. Not quite so, it takes perseverance to actually see some space hardware. When i was in China, i wanted to see one of the 神舟 capsules.
First stop was Shanghai, to the technology museum. An impressive building with dinosaurs, a planetarium and more exhibitions than one can see in a day. And the real 神舟-6 capsule! The first multi-man mission. At least that is what i had read. When i was in the museum there was only an empty platform. Annoyingly the empty space was surrounded by photos of the real thing and texts about how impressive it was. The staff in the museum was most helpful, but they didn't have a clue where it had gone. It might have been moved to the Shanghai aerospace museum. Except that doesn;t exist yet. The museum did have a replica of the complete spacecraft, a replica of a spacesuit (it had not flown) plus a nice display including Chinese space food. Their space food is a source of pride for the Chinese. Since they find food so important they cannot understand how other nation's astronauts and kosmonauts put up with food from tubes and and stuff like that. They pride themselves on the different kinds of rice their crews take into space. A Chinese space(wo)man never has to eat the same dish twice during a mission. But no 神舟 capsule, so it was off to the next stop.
北京 has a space museum. It says so on the internet, so it must be true. The space museum has website with some photos of all the wonderful things on display there. The things is, the museum is rumoured to be off-limits to foreigners. In my efforts to actually see a 神舟 ship i decided to check anyway. The museum is located was out in the suburbs of 北京. Finding a taxi which actually wanted to go there proved to be difficult. Most drivers tend to hit the gas pedal when you want to go somehere they don't know immediately. (Probably because they are not used to read maps) However, i found one and we were off. When i arrived at the address there was a large gate, with lots of people entering past the uniformed guards. Uniformed guards? Yes, the museum is on a military compound. The Chinese space programme is a military responsibility. As a consequence, one can only get into the space museum of one has a military pass. The guards were very vfriendly, they were also very sorry. They could not let me enter. This being a military compound i didn't even take a photo of the gate. That might result in a prolonged tea drinking session with the local commander. I did take a photo of the cheerful cartoon rocket which was drawn to celebrate the 50 years anniversary of the rocket academy. I'm sure that is not a military secret.
Somewhat dissapointed i took a taxi back to the city center (the first cab driver did know where 天安门 was thankfully). I had a few hours until my train to Nanjing left. There was also a rumour about a 神舟 capsule in the national museum so that is where i went. In the national museum there is this interesting exhibition “the road to rejuvenation” documenting the valiant efforts of the Chinese people to overcome the decades of humiliation. The last room of the exhibition is dedicated to the most recent achievements of China. This includes the foil which won the first Olympic gold medal for China. And there was a 神舟 capsule! Real flight hardware. 神舟-5 flew the first Chinese into space. His space suit is displayed next to it. Also in the exhibition: his flight log and some other space related items. No food though.