Friday, October 3, 2008

China is slowly closing the gap with the US in space technology

By China Watcher

On Thursday, 25 September 2008, at 9.10 pm local time, Shenzhou VII blasted off from a remote desert site in Jiuquan without any hiccups and, the craft eventually shifted from an oval orbit to a more stable round orbit about 350 kilometers above Earth. Jiuquan! we had a lift off was proclaimed by the scientist and engineers which congregate at the Space Control Centre. The most prominent reverberation was that the trip had demonstrated to the world that China has progressively closed the space technological gap with the US and the West, and hopefully to match the West space prowess and in particular, the US in the future.

It cannot be denied that in terms of the quality and appearance of the craft, China was at least 30 years behind the US. But the ability of the Chinese to build a reliable 3-man spacecraft on its own, perfecting the Long March 2F rockets and to perform the spacewalk (though only 15 minutes long), which in the past only 2 nations had been able to master this particular risky feat, is in itself a tremendous achievement for a country which only seriously committed to a manned space program about 16 years ago.

Another very significant development for China is the government’s confidence in broadcasting the launch event live on state television. Before the launch, the selected “taikonauts” were introduced to the media and the people in a specially arranged ceremony. The live telecast of the launching of the Shenzhou VII and the lunar probe in 2007, demonstrated that the Chinese government is willing to be more open and transparent in its space program as compared to the brief video clips on news channels for its earlier space missions. The possibility that the event may go very wrong and the losing “face” syndrome in Chinese culture is always present but the government preferred the live mode, and I wish to commend admirably of the sound decision which may be a prelude to an open government for the Chinese people.

For more than a decade, the U.S. government backed by the neo-conservative Congress representatives was the main culprit in rejecting Beijing's overtures to join the 15-nation International Space Station (ISS) Club. Besides being the main technology contributor and the main financial backer for the ISS, the US do possesses lots of influence and hence, the voting always tilted towards the US stance to block a China invitation to the space club.

The US did not outwardly provide any reasons for its decision but space experts know that it has more to do with its self-centered objectives of being the supreme space power and also, the hidden fear that China may apply to its military development whatever advanced space technologies the country’s may acquire through its participation in the elite space club.

The latter line of argument is seriously flaw as we already noted that space technologies are the core element in advancing one’s military warfare if satellites and laser-type weapons are to be widely used in the future. No independent nation with a proper thinking mind would use its space advancement strictly for commercial purposes and benefits. Even the hypocritical US’s NASA programs are fully funded by the government and if I am not wrong the US do apply, to a large extent, these space technologies in its military for example, in mapping war zone using satellites and enhancement of missile precision and most important, the development of a reliable missile defense shield.

Who appointed the US to set the standard and why must she or any other permitted Western nations be the only people who can apply the core space technologies to its military? Perhaps, it is because China does not share its so-called “liberal and western set values”. I am fully aware that any countries which do not hold the set of human "values" (approved by the US, of course) are deemed to be “unfriendly” to the powers in the West especially the US.

The successful execution of the spacewalk will undoubtedly provide ample and vital information for the Chinese to proceed to conduct another expedition to dock two orbiters which are keys to constructing a space lab and ultimately, to build a space station.

China has announced that the time gap to launch the next two Shenzhou missions will be shorter and I would not be at all surprise if China will have a workable space station by 2018.

Congratulations to China and it goes to show that you do not need to be in an exclusive club controlled by the US, to further your space programs objectives.

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