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Taikonauts (China Reaches For The Stars — Again)

One issue I think being significantly under-reported and under-appreciated in the West are the stunning gains China is making in its space program.

Now, many question the motives of the Chinese and their space ambitions by stating that they are a cover for military research. So what? At least someone is taking action and pursuing our destiny in this most noble of final frontiers. Every time a scientist, philosopher, artist or athlete pushes our thresholds to new ground, the entire human race advances.

And I’m afraid Western civilization in general, and the U.S. in particular, has betrayed the Enlightenment and is retreating to another Dark Age, where gullibility, superstition and hysteria are replacing reason and fact. We no longer think great thoughts. We no longer seek to attain a certain nobility. We lead indolent lives.

But, everything goes away. Everything breaks down. Nothing is born that does not die. Nothing begins that does not end. There is no morning without an evening and no silver lining without a cloud. Empires come. Empires go. So, this turn of events should come as a shock to no one.

Is this a gloomy outlook? Not at all; it’s just the way things work…

Click here for a good overview of the Chinese space program

For the official China National Space Administration site, click here.

The latest (public) advances in China’s space ambitions took place on Saturday, September 27, 2008 when taikonaut, Zhai Zhigang, stepped into space, boosting China’s ambitious space program to a level only the U.S. and Russia have achieved to date. The spacewalk paves the way for assembling a space station from two Shenzhou orbital modules, the next major goal of China’s manned spaceflight program.

China launched its first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, in 2003. That was followed by a two-man mission in 2005.

From the start, China has focused squarely on high-payoff areas where it can match or exceed the achievements of others. That garners new capabilities while maximizing the political impact (and sometimes referred to as “techno-nationalism”).

All along, China has relied heavily on homegrown technology, partly out of necessity. China has trouble obtaining such technology abroad due to U.S. and European bans and is not a participant in the International Space Station.

Despite this, China’s space programs are methodically moving forward in a very deliberate, graduated manner as they gain on the U.S. and other space powers. Future goals include an unmanned moon landing around 2012, a mission to return samples in 2015, and possibly a manned lunar mission by 2017 – three years ahead of the U.S. target date for returning to the moon.

Mission to Mars and Beyond

Sun Laiyan, administrator of the China National Space Administration, said on July 20, 2006, that China would start deep space exploration focusing on Mars over the next five years, during the 11th Five-Year (2006-2010) Program period.

The first unmanned Mars exploration program should take place between the 2014-2033 period, followed by a manned phase in 2040-2060.

Moreover, in order to make manned flight in deep space toward Mars safer, a space weather forecast system will be completed by 2012 with the Kuafu mission satellites placed at the Lagrangian Point L1.

The Chief designer of the Shenzhou spacecraft stated in 2006 in an interview that, “Carrying out space programs are not just aimed at sending human into space per se, but instead at enabling human to work in space normally, also preparing for the future manned exploration of Mars and Saturn.”

Manned exploration of Mars and Saturn? Imagine such talk at NASA, where one risks their career by even discussing such ambitious projects… Ours has become a decadent society.

If we are content to live in the past, we have no future. And today is the past.


An undated photo by China’s official Xinhua news agency shows technicians attaching the Shenzhou 7 manned spacecraft to a rocket at an assembly plant.

Workers surround the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft as it is connected to a rocket in advance of China’s third manned space mission.

Technicians and scientists prepare for the Shenzhou 7 launch at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Tourists and space enthusiasts thronged the city of Jiuquan, northwest China, anticipating the nation’s third manned space launch.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming, left to right, attend a departure ceremony in Beijing. They are the crew of the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft, China’s third manned space flight. Their mission included the country’s first spacewalk.

Chinese taikonauts, from left, Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming during a send-off ceremony before the launch.

Chinese tourists watch the Shenzhou 7 manned spacecraft being transferred to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu province.

The Shenzhou 7 manned spacecraft and its rocket are transferred to the launch pad in preparation for China’s third manned space mission.

A Chinese soldier guards the Shenzhou 7 manned spacecraft as it stands on the launch pad. China’s third manned space mission included the country’s first spacewalk.

The Shenzhou 7 spacecraft launches Thursday atop a Long March 2F rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu province. The craft carried a crew of three men into space, including one who made the country’s first spacewalk.

The Shenzhou 7 spacecraft blasts off into a clear night sky.

China’s three taikonauts prepare for launch inside the Shenzou 7 spacecraft, in this image from Chinese Central Television.

Video grab taken at the Beijing Space Command and Control Center released by China’s Xinhua News Agency showing Zhai Zhigang during the 15-minute spacewalk.

A TV grab from CCTV shows Chinese astronaut Jing Haipeng on board the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft as mission commander Zhai Zhigang performs a spacewalk 215 miles over the earth.

Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang walks outside the orbit module of the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft for a spacewalk.

5 thoughts on “Taikonauts (China Reaches For The Stars — Again)

  1. Pingback: Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower and Laboratory « The Velvet Rocket

  2. Great photos. We were in China during the September 2008 launch. I recall reading about it while on a flight to Xian.

    You are right about America dropping into the abyss of darkness. America’s glory lasted less than a century and the US didn’t achieve super-power status until after World War II, because the rest of the world had been devastated and America had no global industrial competition.

    For the next three decades, while the rest of the world rebuilt, US industries like like GM, Ford, etc., soared on exports and the US worker benefited with high pay and benefits, which has been fading for the last two decades as the gap between the rich and poor widens to Grand Canyon measurements.

    However, I’m drifting from what I wanted to say. China isn’t just going out into space to set foot on the moon, Mars and beyond. They are looking to build industries on those moons and planets to mine rare minerals needed in high tech weapons, industries and devices.

    While Western capitalism always seems to have both eyes on short-term profits and daily stock prices, the Chinese plan decades in advance and know where they want to go. Deng Xiaoping said, more than a decade after he launched the “Getting Rich is Glorious” generation that China had an advantage because they could make decisions without quickly and get things done without the partisan style politics we see freezing and slowing innovation and change in the US..

    Western economists have been predicting dire consequences for China’s one party rule economic capitalist system as if Western style multi-party rule capitalism is the only workable model on the planet.

    Boy, are they going to be surprised. I wonder when they will admit that there are other ways to make money than the US short-term method. Will the Chinese make mistakes? Of course but they have the confidence of more than two millennia of successful regional super power status in Asia to keep them moving in their unique direction that is based on a collective culture that may be more superior that the Western individualism model of civilization. Prior to the 19th century and the Opium Wars started by the British and French Imperial Empires, China had the largest economy in the world and one of the world’s highest standards of living. The last two hundred years was a fluke in Chinese history.

    In fact, when the Roman Empire was at his highest level of power, the Qin and Han Dynasties were more technologically advanced and could field armies in the millions that would have creamed Rome’s best. All China is doing now is regaining what once was.

    • Thank you for your outstanding comment, Lloyd. I take comfort in the fact that, even as the pendulum swings away from the West and back toward the East, that there is at least one society that will continue to be bold and to push humanity forward. It’s a shame that it isn’t us and that we in the West squandered so many tremendous opportunities, but such is life, isn’t it? I’m just glad someone is doing it.

  3. China could make moon landing in 2025

    Country also plans space station within a decade and Mars and Venus probes to be launched in next five years

    China could put an astronaut on the moon in 2025 and launch probes to explore Mars and Venus within five years, according to the boss of a Chinese space programme.

    Ye Peijian said China could make its first manned moon landing in 15 years, send a probe to Mars by 2013 and to Venus by 2015.

    “China has the full capacity to accomplish Mars exploration by 2013,” he added.

    The remarks, by the commander in chief of the country’s Chang’e lunar exploration project, were reported by the English language Global Times today and underscore the ambition of China’s plans.

    It was understood that Ye was speaking in his capacity as an academic at an aerospace engineering forum at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, rather than unveiling official policy.

    It is seven years since China became only the third country to put one of its citizens in space. Another astronaut, Zhai Zhigang, conducted its first spacewalk in 2008.

    Yang Liwei, China’s first spaceman, confirmed this weekend that the country planned to set up its first orbital space station by around 2020, according to the People’s Daily website.

    Visiting the space centre in Xi’an, Yang said China would launch its first unmanned space laboratory, Tiangong-1, next year. It is expected to dock with the Shenzhou-8 craft in a first step towards building a space station.

    “[The space programme] has been developing very quickly, but of course still lags far behind when compared with the US and Russia because they have the most advanced technology,” Professor Fu Song, vice-dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Aerospace in Beijing, told the Guardian.

    He said of the proposed moon landing: “It is obviously a very difficult task, but I think in terms of technology, China can do it – the US was technically able to do that almost half a century ago. So for China now it is more about whether the government will make the decision to do it, or whether it is really necessary for the country.”

    He added: “The national pride part [of the programme] has always been one important reason, but it is more than that as well. The scientific value of space exploration is [im]measurable … The moon is an unknown world to us and there are a lot of things waiting to be explored.”

    He said there could be energy resources still awaiting discovery, and that the moon could help in the study of the state of the Earth and universe before the dawn of humanity.

    Barack Obama has been criticised for dropping a plan to return Americans to the moon by 2020. Instead, the US president has announced an initiative aiming to see crewed missions beyond the moon by 2025.

    Although China and the US remain suspicious of each other’s space plans, particularly since much of the technology could have military applications, they agreed last year to open a dialogue on space exploration.

    But China is also looking elsewhere for support. In late 2008, the Asia-Pacific Space Co-operation Organisation launched in Beijing.

    Additional research by Lin Yi

  4. From Wired’s Danger Room…

    China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time

    Outwardly, it looked like just another big space launch — and those happen about once a week, from spaceports all around the world. But Friday’s blast-off of a rocket, carrying a Chinese GPS-style navigation satellite, from the Xi Chang Satellite Launch Center was different. It set a record for successful Chinese launches in one year: 15.

    The launch represented another important milestone. For the first time since the chilliest days of the Cold War, another country has matched the United States in sheer number of rocket launches.

    To some observers, the rapid acceleration of the Chinese space program is perfectly reasonable, even expected. With nearly 20 percent of the world’s population and the planet’s second-biggest economy by some measures, it stands to reason that China would join other advanced, spacefaring nations — and on a grander scale.

    But more cautious (or alarmist, depending on your point of view) China-watchers question Beijing’s motives, and warn of potentially dire consequences if China comes to dominate the heavens.

    In an interview with Danger Room, space expert Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation took a measured view: Sure, China’s catching up fast, but the world’s most powerful Communist country still has a long way to go before it can go toe-to-toe with the United States in space.

    Weeden’s argument boils down to an appreciation of quality versus quantity. “On a pure technology basis, I would put them [China] behind the established spacefaring states such as the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. This is largely due to China’s deficiencies in advanced technology in general and not limited to just space. However, on a space-capability basis, I would put them ahead of everyone but the United States and Russia, and just behind those two leaders.”

    In other words, China makes up for the generally lower-quality of its spacecraft by building more of them — and a greater variety.

    For instance, Beijing can’t match the high quality of Canada’s RADARSAT-2 radar-imaging satellite. “However, Canada does not have an indigenous human spaceflight program or indigenous space launch capability,” Weeden pointed out, and China does. Beijing is “in the process of building constellations of on-orbit satellite to provide a wide variety of capabilities, which will likely surpass Russia (whose satellite constellations are in decline) and end up second only to the U.S.”

    But even with China matching U.S. launch rates, that near-parity could take decades — or never happen at all, considering the huge demographic pressures Beijing faces. China’s 15 launches in 2010 boosted Beijing’s space arsenal to around 67 satellites, both military- and civilian-owned. Russia still has 99, but with its unreliable rockets and rickety finances is struggling to maintain that number.

    The United States, by contrast, owns 441 satellites that we know about, including unique spacecraft such as the Advanced Orion radio snoop (at a reported span of 300 feet, the biggest sat in the world) plus the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle and the shuttle’s smaller robotic replacement, the Air Force’s X-37B.

    In many ways, China’s ascent in space reflects the country’s rapid military modernization on the ground, in the air and at sea — and raises some of the same concerns. After decades of dormancy, China is finally awakening to its full potential. That means big technical and professional leaps, fast. But Beijing started so far behind other world powers, that even big leaps can leave it a distant runner-up.

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