Monday, May 9, 2011

The Chinese Space Program

China has a space program. Sometimes it seems like it's all just a bunch of talk, but while America has basically scraped its space program and Russia is content to use the Soyuz for "taxi flights" to the International Space Station, China is putting real money into their program because they want to prove themselves as a 21st century superpower. They are playing a very long-term game and as you will see, they are making the first of their goals on time.

According to Wikipedia, so far there have been 3 manned space flights by China. It might not seem like much, but it seems like China's theory isn't repetition, it's getting it right the first time.

# Shenzhou 5 – 15 October 2003 – 14 Earth orbits carrying Yang Liwei
# Shenzhou 6 – 12 October 2005 – 5 day mission with Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng (In the space suit in the above picture)
# Shenzhou 7 – 25 September 2008 – three-man crew with Zhai Zhigang (who conducted China's first spacewalk), Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng

Here are their plans for the near future. Only time will tell if they stay on schedule or get delayed.

# Tiangong 1- October 2011 unmanned mission (Target Vehicle)
# Shenzhou 8 – 2011(?) – unmanned mission, will rendezvous and dock with Tiangong 1.
# Shenzhou 9 – 2011(?) – manned mission, will dock with Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8.
# Shenzhou 10 – 2012(?) – manned, will dock with Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9 to form a space laboratory.
# Tiangong 2- Launched 2013-2015 (Space Laboratory)
# Tiangong 3- Launched 2014-1016 (Space Station)

Let's check if China is meeting their schedule. This is according to an 2004 China National Space Administration (CNSA) schedule

Goal 1- Orbit a satellite around the Moon before 2007. (Lunar orbiter Chang'e 1 was launched on October 24, 2007 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center and entered lunar orbit on November 5. The spacecraft operated until March 1, 2009, when it was taken out of orbit and it impacted the surface of the Moon. Data gathered by Chang'e 1 was used to create the most accurate and highest resolution 3-D map ever created of the entire lunar surface.)

Goal 2- Phase two involves sending a lander before 2010. (Chang'e 2 was launched on October 1, 2010 to conduct research at a 100km high Moon orbit as the preparation for a soft landing by Chang'e 3. Chang'e 2 is similar to Chang'e 1 with some improvements, including a better camera with a resolution of one meter.)

Goal 3-Phase three involves collecting lunar soil samples before 2020. (In 2009, the 2013 launch date was confirmed for a landing craft and rover named Chang'e 3. It will use variable thrusters to make a vertical landing on the surface. After landing, the rover will leave the Chang'e 3 lander and work on the surface for three months. If this happens it would be 7 years ahead of their 2004 schedule.)

Goal 4-In September 2010, it was announced that the country is planning to carry out explorations in deep space by sending a man to the Moon by 2025. China also hopes to bring a moon rock sample back to earth in 2017,

Goal 5- The first unmanned Mars exploration program should take place between the 2014-2033 period, followed by a manned phase in 2040-2060. (Yinghuo 1 is a joint Russian-Chinese Mars-exploration space probe scheduled for launch in 2013)

You can argue that they haven't done much yet, but you can also argue that so far they have done everything they said they were. We live in interesting times!

I can't wait to see if China continues to meet all it's goals. Maybe there will be some space excitement in the world after all. After watching NASA's decline for year's I'd started to lose hope. Maybe I won't even care that it's not my country that's generating the buzz.


  1. China has a booming economy and they're actually investing in their country. When the global economy crashed, they greatly increased their spending, following lessons from the Great Depression which we ourselves failed to learn.

    Of course, they're a dictatorship. They don't have to worry about dumb, greedy, ill-informed voters. All their leaders really care about is keeping a tight grip on power. As long as there's no threat to that, they act rationally.

    We'll see if that continues to work for them over the long-term. But either way, we don't have that option. We need active citizens - voters - who'll act rationally. Not only are we desperately short of such citizens, there's really no incentive for our leaders in developing more, because bigoted, fearful, gullible voters are easier to motivate.

    I'm pleased to see China's space program, and I'm very happy they're pulling billions of people out of poverty. But I'm not happy that a dictatorship which holds the country in an iron fist is beating the pants off world democracies? What's that say about us human beings? What's that say about our democracy?

    If China were a modern democracy, with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and all the other freedoms of modern democracies, I'd be cheering them on. As it is, I've got qualms.

  2. You are 100% right. It doesn't say much that is good about Democracy, does it?

    I still believe in America and Democracy.

    But that will be a whole other post.