China's Taikonauts Make History
The “Race for Space” is no longer old news. This time, though, it’s not between two global powers fighting for supremacy during the Cold War era. Now, developing countries are fighting for a place in the sun with experienced space programs like NASA and the RKA. And China has taken the lead.
With the launch of the first woman in space, China has made a “Great Leap Forward” in space exploration. Two male “taikonauts” and one female space traveler, Liu Yang, were aboard the Shenzou 9 Spacecraft that took off from the Gobi desert. China aims to become only the third nation with a base orbiting Earth.
China has always dreamed of extending their space power ever since they were excluded from the International Space Station Project 20 years ago. In its most ambitious project yet, China is looking to set up a permanent base in space, similar to the ISS, perhaps even rivaling it. The Tiangong 1 (Heavenly Palace) is only a prototype for larger, grander space stations to follow.
Before leaving, the crew were presented to Communist party officials, VIP’s and the media. Waving and smiling in their full space gear, they looked like a team ready to put China on the space map. The spacecraft lifted off on schedule and had a smooth takeoff, Shenzou 9’s solar panels unfurling as it entered orbit.
The taikonauts, as dubbed by the Chinese government, will spend 10 days in space testing new systems and running scientific experiments. The most hyped crew member was 33-year-old Liu Yang. A skilled Air Force pilot with a reputation for patriotic speeches, she needed only two years to complete her space training and embark on her first mission.
Big Deal…Or Not?
Before 2003, the only thing China had sent into space was a satellite. Since 2003, China has launched four successful manned operations into space, including a space walk and the first of its permanent bases. Some may be astonished at China’s unprecedented success.. and others may cough.
Some argue that China’s accomplishments in space mirror its rising global status. They may say that as just as NASA's budget is being cut by the US government, the Chinese space program is leading space exploration. The U.S government is meanwhile relying on private space travel while setting its sights on Mars and deep space exploration.
However, others differ. China may have sent its first woman in space, but 49 years after the USSR sent Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. China is standing on the shoulders of long-ago giants. Many argue that space travel is now an established process. When the US and USSR were experimenting with it, they were pioneering space travel at a time when the impact of zero gravity on the human body was unknown.
It is undeniable that China’s space program has come a long way from its beginnings. Where will they go next -- to the moon?