China launched a spacecraft nearly two weeks ago: Shijan 10. Today it returned its experimental payloads in a blunt reentry capsule. Aboard were nineteen different experiment packages, including fluid dynamics, combustion, materials science, and biology. One experiment carried freshly fertilized mouse embryos, which were allowed to develop and photographed every four hours during the mission to see what effect microgravity had on them, confirming that the embryos developed right on track with normal mouse development schedules. I do not know whether they intend to implant any in female mice to see if they mature normally or if they will be discarded, but China described it as a critical step towards future human colonization of space, since these were mammalian embryos. Silkworm embryos were also studied, as were plants to study the effects of cosmic radiation on them. It may seem like a blast to the past, but in reality, the pace of experimentation in space has been extremely slow due to the great expense of launching things into space; to be brutally honest, we haven’t made a tremendous amount of progress since 1961. But we are on the cusp of all that changing, not only with China entering the game, but also commercial spaceflight providers. What we really need is for quick turnaround on experiments so that an iterative process can actually work, rather than the whole process for getting onto a launch manifest taking so long that you end up having to start over and over. And hopefully once the crewed flight rate to the ISS increases, that will become possible.
Anyway, here’s Shijian-10 blasting off:
And here it is during recovery: