An enviable achievementChina made another significant achievement in space yesterday. The unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8 successfully docked with space lab module Tiangong 1 early yesterday, 343 kilometers (213 miles) above Shanxi and Gansu provinces, according to the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center. Docking two moving vehicles in space is a highly sophisticated technique only the United States and Russia have achieved.
When Chinese President Hu Jintao, on a visit to France to participate in the Group of 20 Summit in Cannes, congratulated the mission team on the success of the project, 1.3 billion Chinese exulted in jubilation. Boosted by the remarkable feat, China now aims to build and operate its own space station by 2020 by accelerating its already ambitious space exploration projects.
The speed of technological advances into space by China is remarkable indeed, as it is a crystallization of the country’s persistent efforts to catch up with the achievements of Russia, with its first space walk in 1961, and the United States, with its historic Apollo moon landing in 1969.
After the launch of its first manned spacecraft in 2003 and its first satellite for moon exploration in 2007, China executed a space walk in 2008, followed by another successful launch of a moon exploration satellite in 2010.
If it succeeds in launching a satellite to explore Mars in collaboration with Russia this year, China will land an unmanned ship on the moon next year, launch its own satellite to explore Mars in 2013, collect soil from the moon by 2017 and finally operate its own space station by 2020. With the dazzling array of projects, Beijing seems to be aspiring to join the ranks of aerospace powerhouses like the United States and Russia within a decade.
China’s latest success in space may be worthy of praise, but at the same time, it is difficult for us extend our wholehearted congratulations, given our own dire situation. We have not yet fully recovered from our consecutive failure to launch the Naro spacecraft, the rocket of which was provided by Russia. Our frustration with the heart-wrenching fiasco dampened our hope for space development, as seen by the small number of satellites we own - four, compared to the more than 100 owned by China or the dozens owned by Japan. We understand that it could be reckless to enter a full-fledged competition with bigger nations. But we should at least have the capability to launch our own satellites with our own technology.