Jun 13 2008
The Chinese National Space Administration announced yesterday that its 3rd manned mission will be in October and will feature the first-ever Chinese space walk. China’s first manned mission was in 2003, when they became the third country to join the manned space club. The Shenzhou VII spacecraft (“divine vessel”) will be launched with 3 Chinese astronauts (“taikonauts”) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu province. Space walks are important to construction and maintenance of the planned space station according to Qi Faren, former chief designer of the Shenzhou spacecrafts.
This mission demonstates the continuing commitment of China to manned operations in space and it clearly suggests that China will be a major leader of the next international race to space expected to begin within 5 – 7 years. The October launch date was not specified and the astronauts’ identities we not revealed, although they have been selected and continue to train for the mission.
Although China has not announced a schedule for this program, the permanent station is expected to be a modular, 20-ton class orbital facility in orbit by 2020. Various press accounts also have them establishing a Moon base by 2024, and perhaps even going on to Mars. In 2004, Brian Harvey (China’s Space Program) indicated that firm numbers are hard to get, but there are about “10,000 graduate engineers working in 460 institutes…” connected to the Chinese space program. Harvey quotes an estimate for the China to U.S. space budget ratio of 4.5% in 2001. In 2006, China indicated this ratio had grown to 10%; on a GDP basis it would indicate the 2006 U.S. budgetary commitment to space was only 4 times larger than China’s. Thus it’s likely that China will look for international partners during the next 5+ years as their space infrastructure and experience grows, especially, according to their white papers, for partners in the Asia-Pacific region.
Foreign policy strategist Thomas Barnett suggests that, “…we’re less than five years from a new generation of Chinese leaders with whom a far stronger relationship may well be built.” If true the world may celebrate the win-win of China’s strong push toward space as it constructively rises on the world stage.