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Who or What Is Knocking On His Spacecraft? | NASA's Unexplained Files

Who or What Is Knocking On His Spacecraft? | NASA's Unexplained Files
NARRATOR: These are NASA's

Unexplained

Files

. October 15, 2003, Yang Liwei has been selected to become the first Chinese astronaut. It's a big moment in a country when you send people to outer space for the first time. It's a big undertaking. It's very difficult. A lot of things can go wrong. NARRATOR: This will be a solo mission. Yang will be utterly alone-- at least, that's the theory. There's a different pressure if you're flying alone, you know. Americans haven't flown alone since the Mercury Program. To be the first representative of your nation being launched into space for the first time on an untested

spacecraft

has to be terrifying. He is under incredible pressure, incredible stress. NARRATOR: Initially, nothing seems strange. Yang blasts off from the rocket site in inner Mongolia. Launching a rocket is very perilous business. A thousand things could go wrong. And the only difference between a bomb and a rocket motor is one has a hole in the back of it. NARRATOR: 10 minutes later, Yang is 210 miles above Earth, on his own. He's sure he's on his own. You can imagine how Yang felt after the rocket engines stopped rumbling and shaking him, and he's safely in orbit. The engines have cut off, and you're starting to experience the microgravity. You're free floating, and there's just this quiet and the serenity that happens. NARRATOR: In the dead emptiness of space, everything is silence. Yang is the loneliest man...
who or what is knocking on his spacecraft nasa s unexplained files
alive. Yang is getting ready for the work that he's going to be doing on orbit before he comes back down, and something unexpected happens. TIM PICKENS: All of a sudden he hears this

knocking

. It sounded like someone

knocking

at the door. CAPT. WINSTON SCOTT: Anything that's a loud bang, that get the adrenaline flowing. You can imagine how fearful he might have felt, thinking it might have been something that hit his capsule or something broke, or maybe something more sinister was occurring. NARRATOR: The

knocking

shocks Yang. It seems unreal. The first thing you do is you check your instrumentation. See if there are any emergencies the computer's detected or any malfunctions. Is the skin of the

spacecraft

, is it peeling off? NARRATOR: All readouts on the ship are normal. There are no leaks, no depressurization. To his horror, he hears the

knocking

again. With all rational explanations rejected, he has to face a bizarre and terrifying possibility. Is there something outside

knocking

to get in? NARRATOR: Outside the capsule, it's minus 455 degrees. There is no oxygen. A human being outside the craft without a suit would find their body swelling to twice its size as gas bubbles form under their skin. There is only one creature known to man that can withstand these conditions. A tiny strange animal called a tardigrade. Tardigrades actually produce antioxidants in their body that helps fight against the lack of oxygen. NARRATOR: But tardigrades don't...
who or what is knocking on his spacecraft nasa s unexplained files
knock-- at least, not the kind we have on Earth. You're like, wait a minute,

what

's out there? He looks out the window. Is a face going to stare back at him? He doesn't see anything. There's no explanation. That's almost worse. Is this just a figment of his imagination? You know, space madness, if you will. Your mind will start to wander, and none of those places that your mind stops is a good place. I believe that it is possible to imagine things if you allow yourself to do it. NARRATOR: One of the greatest fears of every space agency is the extent to which space travel hammers the human mind. We've done experiments on Earth, putting people into small contained spaces for long periods of time to see how they interact. NARRATOR: In 1999, an international crew enters an isolation chamber in Moscow for a 110-day psychological experiment to see how humans cope living and working in space. TIM PICKENS: It didn't go very well. It's like living with roommates that you can never get away from. I think it started verbally. Next thing you know they're physically fighting trying to kill each other. This was serious business, man. There was blood on the walls. Now, is it possible that Yang was going through a very similar type of space dementia? And maybe that's where this

knocking

sound came from. NARRATOR: But Yang's in orbit for less than a day, hardly time for space dementia to set in. You know, Yang and I go back a little bit. I can tell...
who or what is knocking on his spacecraft nasa s unexplained files
you he's a real stable person. If he said he heard something, I believe he heard something. NARRATOR: Yang, aware of how rigorously China monitors and tests his psychological responses, keeps his cool when speaking to mission control. If you're an astronaut and you want to fly again, you have to be very careful of

what

you say and to whom. NARRATOR: Yang knows the

knocking

is real but dares not show any fear. He has been in space for 21 nerve-shredding hours and throughout the

knocking

continues. That's a tough psychological challenge, and it's one that is very difficult to stay on an even keel with. NARRATOR: He now faces his final test-- reentry. When you panic,

what

are you going to do, here in space? NARRATOR: He attempts to steer his craft back into the Earth's atmosphere at over 17,000 miles per hour. And you're going so fast that the air actually ionizes outside, and that loses is hot plasma. The plasma is in the thousands of degrees. NARRATOR: The craft eventually slows as a single parachute is released. Landing rockets fire. And to Yang's great relief, his craft touches down safely in the Gobi Desert, inner Mongolia. Yang worries that he will be thought mad or mentally disturbed, so he keeps quiet about the

knocking

on the outside of his capsule. But privately, he becomes obsessed by it. His best guess is that it's some kind of thermal effect. As the

spacecraft

orbits the Earth, its exterior is subjected to these tremendous changes of...
temperature from the roasting sun to the freezing darkness of space. So unless you rotate a

spacecraft

, you can't evenly distribute the temperature. It's sort of like a rotisserie in a grill. NARRATOR: Yang starts secret tests in his own lab. So he takes materials that are from his "Shenzhou 5"

spacecraft

and tries to subject them to different kinds of heat and to try to replicate the conditions that the capsule had experienced. NARRATOR: Despite years of repeated experiments subjecting the materials from the craft to every type of stress, he cannot replicate the ghostly

knocking

. And so as an engineer, people don't like to not be able to explain things with physics. NARRATOR: Eventually, Yang privately confesses

what

he heard to colleagues who've gone into space on subsequent "Shenzhou" missions. He can't let this go, and he tells the other astronauts that follow him about this

knocking

sound. NARRATOR: Their response amazes him. They hear the same thing. The question remains, why did so many astronauts hear it?

What

caused the noise? Was it something particular to that type of

spacecraft

, or was there something outside

knocking

, maybe trying to get in?