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Middle Kingdom's bid to space (2)

(Global Times)

09:01, September 30, 2011

French researcher Isabelle Sourbes-Verger told AFP that a correctly functioning docking system would put China "in a potential position to one day access the International Space Station (ISS)." But she cautioned this was not likely to happen in the next five years.

The Xinhua News Agency described the space lab module as a "cornerstone for China's space odyssey," on Thursday.

"It will be the latest showcase of the nation's growing prowess in space." It came at a time when "budget restraints and economic tailspin have held back the once dominant US space missions," Xinhua noted.

The US ended its unmatched but cripplingly expensive shuttle program in July and will not place human beings into outer space again before 2017.

Earlier this month, NASA unveiled plans for a deep-space rocket to carry astronauts to the moon and Mars. US President Barack Obama has called for a human expedition to an asteroid by 2025 and a journey to Mars in the 2030s.

Global partners on the ISS have set 2020 as the year the world's largest space project is retired, the same year that China plans to complete its own permanent space platform.

"The successful launch of Tiangong-1 is an event of huge geopolitical significance," the BBC said minutes after the launch. It demonstrates "the Chinese government's determination to achieve a series of dramatic space objectives that will confirm the country's status as a new superpower."

However, the Southern Weekly cautioned earlier this month that it will be premature to view China's space momentum as a sure sign of overtaking the US in space exploration.

"What is worth noting is what China is going to use its space station for," the Guangzhou-based newspaper observed. "Seed experiments and material engineering are what the US and Russia have been pursuing for a very long time," it said.

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