China’s space mission shows growing ambitions
CHINA: China's latest space mission is its most ambitious yet
and shows Beijing's resolve to increase its technological capabilities
and bridge the gap with the United States and Russia, experts say. The
Shenzhou-9 rocket blasted off from the Gobi desert on Saturday with
three astronauts on board -- including, for the first time, a woman --
to conduct China's first manned space docking, the latest step towards
setting up a space station.
The mission marks a huge stride forward for China, which in 1999
kicked off its manned space programme with the launch of Shenzhou-1
(“Divine Vessel” in Chinese) with no crew on board.
Two years later, Shenzhou-2 lifted off with small animals aboard, and
in 2003, China sent its first man into space. Since then, it has
completed a space walk in 2008 and an unmanned docking between a module
and rocket last year.
But the latest mission is even more technically demanding, as
astronauts will have to control the space docking manually.
The procedure will put the spacecraft's manual control system to the
test and demands huge operational accuracy from the astronauts, Wu Ping,
spokeswoman for China's manned space programme, told reporters.
“This is China's most ambitious space mission so far. It is longer
and more complex than anything previously done,” said Morris Jones, an
Australian space expert.
“It shows that China is serious about its long-term goals in space.”
Successful completion of the docking -- a highly technical procedure
that requires two vessels to gently come together in high speed orbit --
will take China one step closer to building its own space station in
The mission has also taken on a symbolic dimension as Shenzhou-9 is
carrying Liu Yang, China's first ever female astronaut to go to space.
The Asian powerhouse has even bigger ambitions of sending astronauts
to the moon, although nothing has yet been set in stone.
Nevertheless, China -- which in the 1980s was focused solely on
developing satellites -- continues to play catch-up with Russia and the
“It will still take at least another decade before China reaches a
comparable level to Russia or the USA in space flight,” said Jones.
Just like it did for its first manned space flight, China is having
to master key manoeuvres and tasks that the Americans and Russians
successfully completed way back in the 1960s, as it races towards
creating a space station.