Monday, October 31, 2011

China and Space

China Daily and the BBC report on the launch of China's unmanned spacecraft for the ultimate goal of establishing a space station. As China Daily states:

The main tasks of the Shenzhou VIII is to test docking technology and functions of the modified space vessel and rocket, and carry out scientific experiments, Wu said. The unmanned spacecraft is equipped with devices for recording real images and mechanical parameters during its flight, to test the space docking before a manned attempt. Once China has mastered the technologies of rendezvous and docking, it will be equipped with the basic technologies and capacity required for the building of a space station, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program. "It will make it possible for China to carry out space exploration of larger scale," he said. For this mission, Chinese and German scientists will also conduct 17 space life science experiments on Shenzhou VIII. Among the research programs, 10 will be controlled by China, six by Germany, and one by joint efforts, Wu said.

The BBC states:

It is a learning curve China hopes will eventually lead to the construction of a space station, starting at the end of the decade. At about 60 tonnes in mass, this future station would be considerably smaller than the 400-tonne international platform operated by the US, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, but its mere presence in the sky would nonetheless represent a remarkable achievement.

The emergence of China as a player in space has interesting elements. Clearly they see this as an element of national pride. Also they see this as a strategic element of their development as a significant international/global power.

In a way the US and its fumbling NASA programs have changed the attitude of the public to the "show off" space missions, the 1960s type banter from the space platforms, almost Kindergarten in nature.

If space is a strategic element then it should be run that way, and in fact that is what DoD is doing despite the follies of NASA.