Wednesday, September 21, 2011

China takes first step towards space station

China is about to take the first step towards building its own space station with the launch of Tiangong 1, or Heavenly Palace, in a further sign of its race to catch up with the US and Russia.

State media on Tuesday reported that China would next week launch an unmanned craft from the Chinese western Gobi desert that will be used for practising operations at a future space station. The launch comes as the US is cutting funding for its space programme, having retired its space shuttle fleet after a last flight of the Atlantis in July.

Although space experts warn of huge technological challenges ahead for the country’s space station plans, the programme would eventually make China the world’s only nation with a space station. The China Manned Space Engineering Office has said it plans to complete the space station in 2020, just as the International Space Station is scheduled to retire.

“Space flight is the concrete reflection of the overall strength of a great power,” said Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University.

While China’s foreign policy doctrine tries to avoid trumpeting the country’s “rise”, many citizens feel such technological prestige projects are part of a renaissance that will return the nation to its rightful place of a global power. more