With the launch of the SpaceX rocket on Saturday, May 30, America has taken a big step in the race for supremacy in space. Nonetheless, China, as usual in the previous decade, is not inclined to provide the United States with an open path, but intends to make his own mark in the race.
China’s Space Progress
It has been almost two decades since China launched a manned space mission for the first time. At the end of 2003, Beijing sent Yang Liwei into orbit. Since then he has been celebrated as a national hero and an inspiration for upcoming generations. To date, ten more Chinese astronauts have followed in Yang’s footsteps.
However, the total of nine men and two women will not be maintained for much longer, as China has been consistently expanding its ambitious space program for years — and as with all Chinese projects, this too at immense speed, effort and financial commitment.
It was not until the beginning of May that the Chinese space agency tested a new spacecraft prototype. The capsule launched unmanned from the southern Chinese island of Hainan, circled the earth for a good two and a half days during which various devices and functions onboard the space shuttle was tested remotely. Just over a week later, the space shuttle hung on a giant parachute and landed safely in the no-man’ s-land of northern China.
China’s New Space Capsule
According to latest media reports, the new Chinese space capsule aims to carry up to seven astronauts into space at the same time. Zhou Jianping, the chief developer of China’s manned space program, appeared in Beijing the previous Sunday and stated that China’s space travel, unlike the May project, will not be restricted to Earth orbit flights in the future. Instead, China seeks to go to the moon and even beyond it.
In order to facilitate China’s ambition vision, the roadmap stipulates that a new, relatively large space station will first be put into orbit in the next few years. Moreover, a Chinese woman is set to go to the moon for the first time within the next ten years.
Beijing Wants it All
For the communist leadership in Beijing, the space program is about more than just research and science. The project is also associated with enormous political and propaganda component, especially with regard to China’s hegemonic aspirations.
The country is focussed and expresses a “strictly business-attitude” when asked about its plans for space. While the American NASA and the European ESA like to present themselves relatable and accessible, the Chinese space agency is strict and almost martial in its modus operandi. In China, space travel is classified and a matter for the military. Moreover, like everything in China, space travel is under the command of the Communist Party and its leader, head of state Xi Jinping.
‘Strong Space Nation’
Wu Weiren, head of the Chinese space program, said that Xi Jinping ordered him to explore the universe and make China a strong space nation. One now seeks to realize the leader’s vision for his country.
There are no official figures about the budget of the Chinese space program. The estimates range from around two to eight billion euros per year. Unlike in Europe or the USA, the dictatorship in China does not openly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of spending on space – it does not have to.
Moreover, due to the lack of elections or legislative periods in China, long-term planning of the Chinese space program is also much easier than in democratic nations. China is, therefore, in a comfortable situation to face the race for space supremacy and is evidently not only inclined to obtain the latter but willing to achieve success at all cost.