When China’s first astronaut Yang Liwei blasted off into space in 2003, it was a historical past making second that declared his nation’s arrival as an rising space energy.
20 years on, China has turn into a serious presence in space – a standing that mirrors its rising financial, political and army ascendency on Earth. It now has its personal everlasting outpost in orbit – a completely operational space station – and routinely rotates crews to stay and work there.
On Thursday, three Chinese language astronauts lifted off on the Shenzhou-17 spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite tv for pc Launch Middle deep in the Gobi Desert, heading for the Tiangong space station for a six-month keep.
They’re the youngest crew China has ever sent to space – with a mean age of 38. Amongst their duties on board is to restore the photo voltaic panels that have been broken by space particles – the first time Chinese language astronauts will perform restore work outdoors the station.
That is China’s sixth manned mission to its space station since 2021. The brand new crew will take over from the Shenzhou-16 astronauts, who’ve been onboard since Could.
Earlier than the launch, the crew was sent off in full pageantry, greeted by authorities officers and supporters lining the street. The three astronauts waved at the crowd, who held up Chinese language flags and flowers. A band performed patriotic songs and the crowd sang alongside.
Since his personal journey to space, Yang has sent off many Chinese language astronauts on their missions. However Thursday’s launch was particularly emotional, coming simply days after the twentieth anniversary of his personal historic flight.
“Taking a look at this launch as a veteran, the very first thing I see is how far China’s manned spaceflight has come. Over the previous 20 years, it has developed quickly and made nice achievements,” Yang advised CNN at the Jiuquan heart on Wednesday, forward of the launch.
Accomplished late final 12 months, the Tiangong – or “heavenly palace” in Chinese language – is one among the two space stations at present in orbit. With a lifespan of 15 years, it might turn into the just one left when the NASA-led Worldwide Space Station (ISS) retires in 2030.
China has already introduced plans to broaden the Tiangong in coming years, including three modules to its present three to permit extra astronauts to keep overseas at the identical time. Presently, it will probably home a most of three astronauts, in contrast with seven at the ISS.
Yang mentioned he was thrilled to see a youthful era of Chinese language “taikonauts” taking over the baton. “In them, I see the energy of our reserve pressure, and the hope for the future growth of China’s aerospace business,” he mentioned.
Two of the Shenzhou-17 crew members – Tang Shengjie, 33, and Jiang Xinlin, 35 – are new comers, having joined China’s third batch of astronauts solely a bit of over three years in the past.
They’re led by Tang Hongbo, 48, who hails from the nation’s second batch of astronauts.
Tang, a former fighter jet pilot, was on China’s first crewed mission to its space station in 2021. His return to the Tiangong additionally set a brand new document for the shortest interval between two spaceflight missions by Chinese language astronauts.
China’s space ambition
Tiangong has turn into an emblem of China’s ambition and capabilities in space, after Chinese language astronauts have been shut out of the ISS, a US-led collaboration with Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, for greater than twenty years.
Since 2011, NASA has been successfully banned from cooperating with China, after Congress handed the Wolf Amendment due to espionage-related issues. That exclusion has not less than partially spurred Beijing to construct its personal space station.
China has sought to open up its station to collaboration with worldwide companions, together with by internet hosting experiments from different nations. And that supply shall be all the extra interesting after the ISS retires, which is scheduled round 2030.
Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut and ISS commander, mentioned NASA has contracted with totally different non-public teams to create industrial space stations that its astronauts might function in. However “we’ll have to see how all that goes,” he advised CNN.
“The opposite nations that take part in spaceflight, significantly human spaceflight, they’ve been speaking to China. And so in the event that they’re the solely recreation on the town, that’s the solely manner that these firms or these nations can take part in human spaceflight, till we get these industrial space stations which are partially funded by NASA into orbit and operational,” Chiao mentioned.
Beijing for years has been leveraging its rising prowess as a world space energy to provide partnerships and growth alternatives to different nations.
As China and the United States intensify their financial, technological and geopolitical rivalry on Earth, space has turn into a pure extension – and essential frontier – of their nice energy competitors.
Following the demise of the Soviet Union’s space program, the US has loved a interval of unparalleled management in space. However in recent times, US observers and politicians have warned that America’s dominance might quickly be challenged by China’s fast-growing space capabilities.
That concern has solely deepened with a collection of vital and high-profile Chinese language achievements.
In 2019, China grew to become the first nation to land on the far facet of the moon. A 12 months later, it efficiently put into orbit its ultimate Beidou satellite tv for pc, setting the stage to problem the US International Positioning System (GPS). And in 2021, it grew to become the solely nation after the US to put a functioning rover on Mars.
China’s ambitions don’t finish there. Subsequent 12 months, it plans to deliver again the first samples ever collected from the moon’s far facet. By the finish of this decade, it needs to ship astronauts to the moon and construct a global lunar analysis station. Various nations have reportedly joined onto its deliberate lunar station, together with Russia, Venezuela and South Africa.
Chiao, the retired NASA astronaut, mentioned the principal problem now dealing with China’s space program is to get the operational expertise that a corporation like NASA has.
“We’ve been working spacecraft, space shuttle, space station for many years. And we’ve got a lot expertise and know-how on coaching astronauts on working in space – and that’s the place they’re taking part in catch up,” he mentioned.
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