Saturday, July 23, 2011

China Takes The Torch Of Manned Spaceflight

We've voluntarily abrogated our leadership in space, but there are others ready to take up the banner. This is dangerous, because the world will see it as another step in America's decline. Indeed, Americans may even come to view themselves as second-class. When China explores the lunar surface and we have no such capability, how will we feel? When we no longer believe that America can do anything we bend our will to, how will that affect our national character and our ability to compete on the world stage? As notes, China is not sitting still.

Later this year, China will remind the world that it remains committed to what the United States no longer seems interested in—being able to put a man in space. The Chinese are expected to place the Tiangong–1, resembling the U.S. Skylab or the Soviet Salyut space labs, into orbit sometime later this summer or this fall. The Chinese will also launch an unmanned version of their Shenzhou space capsule to engage in unmanned docking maneuvers with the Tiangong, while preparing for manned missions in 2012 or 2013.
Meanwhile, China also continues its Chang’e lunar exploration program. With the successful launch of two orbiters, China has now had a chance to examine the moon for the best place to land a lunar rover, currently scheduled for 2013, and eventually a lunar sample retrieval mission, which is expected by 2017. Once that milestone is achieved, China will have completed the two main preparatory steps toward a manned lunar mission, most likely in the 2025 timeframe.

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