China’s achievements in outer space | By Sultan M Hali

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China’s achievements in outer space


THE People’s Republic of China has made tremendous achievements in outer space. It has successfully launched three astronauts to its permanent space station.

One of the recent achievements is the launch of astronauts to the Chinese-built space station.

The objectives of the space mission are that firstly, the three astronauts, who arrived at China’s permanent space station Tianhe, will stay there for three months, where they will conduct scientific experiments, walk in space and repair the station. Secondly, they will prepare for additional space station modules next year.

Although China has been late in the global competition for the space station, yet, it is making up for lost time through building technologically advanced space stations.

Reliable sources inform that the Chinese space station will be the longest-running of any such station in space.

With the departure of the mission on June 17, 2021, China has reactivated its space program after a five-year hiatus.

Since 2003, China has become the third country in the mission to send 14 astronauts into space, after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

This is China’s first manned space mission in five years, which is part of a series of 11 space missions aimed at delivering equipment and supplies to China’s permanent space station so that it will be fully operational.

Observers may question as to why China is building the station? The simple answer is that since the Chinese economy began to pick up speed in the 1990s, China began allocating resources to science and technology, especially to research in space.

There was a bleak period in which China was barred from joining the International Space Station because of US reservations regarding China’s covert space program and its possible military objectives.

Undeterred, China continued to build its own station because it also wanted to become a major power in space with a broader space program.

Resultantly, the Chinese space programme also provides opportunities for liaison with Russia and European countries, including the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. China is a proud nation and its national pride is also linked to its space program.

It is significant that a nation that has traversed the path from abject poverty to becoming the world’s second-largest economy over the past four decades, considers its space program symbolic of its success.

International observers believe that China’s progress in the space research program will enhance the prestige of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

It is noteworthy that the launch of astronauts in the space mission has come on the eve of the centenary of the CPC next month.

The three astronauts on the mission to the Chinese space station via the Shinzo-12 spacecraft comprise the commander Ni Haisheng, 56, along with Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45.

All three astronauts are former pilots of the Chinese Air Force and have strong scientific backgrounds.

All Chinese astronauts were recruited from the military, highlighting the relationship between the space program and the military. Ni Haisheng is embarking on a third space trip.

The other astronauts involved in the mission were Liu Boming in the 2008 mission in which Chinese astronauts stepped into space for the first time.

The third astronaut on the mission, Tang Hongbo, was selected in 2010 and is heading into space for the first time.

Chinese officials have also hinted at including a female astronaut in the next mission. The stay of astronauts on the current mission can be extended to six months and six more astronauts will be sent to the space station to replace the current astronauts. China has previously sent 11 astronauts into space between 2003 and 2016 through its six manned missions.

Ji Shimeng, Assistant Director of the Chinese space agency, speaking on the occasion of the departure of the space mission, stated that soon after the way China is expanding cooperation in the field of space, astronauts from other countries will also be able to travel to the space station with their Chinese counterparts.

For its part, China says it is open to foreign involvement on its station. In the first instance, this means hosted scientific experiments. For example, the Shenzhou-12 crew will conduct cancer investigations that are led from Norway.

And on the outside of the station, there is an Indian-developed telescopic spectrograph to study ultraviolet emissions coming from deep space, from the likes of exploded stars. But, long term, there probably also will be visits to the station by non-Chinese nationals.

Russia, which has shared technology in the past with China, has mentioned the possibility of sending its cosmonauts.

China’s journey to Mars with the establishment of a manned space station along with the progress in launching a robotic spaceship into the solar system are no mean achievement.

China launched a mission to Mars called Zhurong, in May 2021, in which a rover or vehicle used for space exploration landed successfully on Mars.

The Chinese spacecraft is conducting a detailed survey of Mars, specifically exploring the frozen lakes on Mars, which are thought to be tracing life on Mars.

Earlier, China also sent a mission to the moon. For the first time since the 1970s, China brought samples from the moon to Earth.

According to officials, China wants to land an astronaut on the moon and set up a research base there.

President Xi Jinping has extended his support behind the country’s space endeavours and the Chinese state media presents the “space dream”” as another step in the path to “national rejuvenation”.

—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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