A Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket loaded with Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab module blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province, Sept. 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Wang Jianmin)
There has been a lot of angst and hand-wringing over the past few years about the America’s diminishing interest in space science. Year after year, budgets are slashed, spacecraft are mothballed, projects are cancelled. And yet I’ve never been particularly bothered by this. I’m not american, so I could care less about the loss of national prestige, and I’m aware that the USA do not hold the monopoly on space travel. Heck, even African countries have space programs.
As if to justify my optimism, China launched their first space station into orbit last week. The station, named Tiangong 1, is more like the old Skylab than the ISS, but it’s not the size that counts: It’s that the People’s Republic of China is taking space exploration seriously enough to spend the resources to establish their own presence in space. By laying claim to a slice of the heavens, they ensure that humanity continues to reach for the stars, and might even spur western governments to rearrange their priorities and respond to the competition!