China's first astronaut was given permission to crash-land his spacecraft in the Australian outback in case of an emergency under a secret agreement between Canberra and Beijing....the latter quite near where Skylab ended up, in fact.
But the Government did not tell the public of the disaster plan, despite alerting state and federal emergency services to the fact that a Chinese astronaut and his spacecraft might suddenly fall from the sky.
China quietly approached the Australian Government with its request in October last year, shortly before launching its first manned space flight with astronaut Yang Liwei aboard.
The successful launch received worldwide attention, but the Chinese did not reveal Australia's supporting role in the historic mission.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority was to find the Chinese capsule if it crashed in this country.
But the only key to the spacecraft in Australia was held by a Chinese embassy official in Canberra.
The plan required that the Chinese official be flown to the site of any emergency landing to open the spacecraft and let Australian rescuers in, which would have ensured Australian scientists did not enter first and conduct an impromptu inspection of China's rocket technology.
Police sources have told The Weekend Australian four areas of the outback were designated as possible landing zones for any emergency landing of the craft, known as Shenzhou V or "divine vessel".
These crash zones included a remote desert location in the far southwest of the Northern Territory and another in northwest South Australia, as well two remote locations in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.
Sunday, 1 February 2004
From The Australian :