Shenzhou-9 spacecraft boosts tourism in China’s space city

Shenzhou-9 spacecraft boosts tourism in China’s space city

It's off-limits to foreigners, but Chinese flock to Jiuquan, where the nation’s aerospace dream began
space town tourism
A small step for a kid -- a big step for China.

The successful lift-off and docking of spacecraft Shenzhou-9 (神舟九号) is inspiring Chinese tourists to trek deep into the Gobi desert to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (酒泉卫星发射中心), the "Cape Canaveral of China."

Located in China’s northwest Gansu Province, Jiuquan -- home to around 1 million residents -- is witnessing a tourism boom, reported by Chinese media.

Curious aerospace fans swamped the city during the launch last week, and more families are planning an “educational tour” with their children for the upcoming summer school holiday.

“I originally planned to take [my son] to Qingdao and Weihai [during the summer vacation,]” a man surnamed Zhu from Lanzhou told Lanzhou Evenning News. “Now he wants to see the space city [in Jiuquan] and we’ll grant his wish.”

Wu, a marketing officer from Jiuquan Tourism Bureau, said that the success of Shenzhou-9 will mean a “substantial increase in tourism” for the city this summer.

space town tourism -- inlineJiuquan Satellite Launch Center: China's aerospace dream started here.

Satellite center tour

Built in 1958, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, aka Dong Feng Space City(东风航天城), is the main draw of Jiuquan city.

The 2,800-square-kilometer Dong Feng is home to 30,000 scientists, soldiers and their families, and is China’s oldest and largest space launch center. It’s the breeding ground and launch pad of many vital space projects, including the nation’s first man-made satellite Dongfanghong and all the Shenzhou-series spacecraft.

Part of the space city is open to domestic tourists, which includes the satellite launch site, command center, and Wentiange (问天阁), where the astronauts live.

According to Jiuquan International Travel Agency, mainland Chinese tourists can tour the center after submitting their ID for permission. The space city doesn’t admit foreign travelers, but they can visit Jiuquan’s other attractions, such as a 2,000-year-old Han-style garden, Xihan Jiuquan.

Space city’s last tourism craze

Industry experts said that previous spacecraft launches, such as Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8, have also increased Jiuquan’s tourism numbers, but the boost is particularly obvious with Shenzhou-9.

Chen, a local hotel owner, told the Chongqing Economic Times that the Jiuquan was enjoying its “last tourism craze.”

“This has been the busiest and most atmospheric spacecraft launch,” said Chen. “Jiuquan will return to peace after the Shenzhou-10 takes off.”

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The newspaper reported that China is planning to shift its aerospace industry to Hainan, where the country already has a launch center near the city of Wenchang (文昌).

Jiuquan received 6.16 million domestic and international tourists in 2011. The city is aiming to raise the number to more than 8 million this year.

space town tourism -- inlineA statue in downtown Jiuquan, showing man living happily on the moon. Is this China's space goal?

Shenzhou-9 background

The Shenzhou-9 launched on June 16 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, carrying China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang (刘洋), and two male astronauts, Jing Haipeng (景海鹏) and Liu Wang (刘旺).

The spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space laboratory on June 18, completing the next step in the country's ambitious space mission.

This makes China the third country to complete a manned space docking, following the United States and Russia.

The three-strong crew will stay in the space lab to conduct "scientific experiments, technical tests, and physical exercises," according to official state news agency, Xinhua.

A Shenzhou-9 operations timetable released by Xinhua shows the craft and crew are due to return to earth on June 29.

More on CNN: Historic Chinese space mission docks successfully

Admission to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center is RMB 160. The best way to get there is by taxi from Jiuquan. A single journey takes two-three hours. Taxi drivers charge roughly RMB 500 for a return trip.