China took one step closer to a future space station last night, with the successful launch of their Tiangong-1 space lab module. The most exciting (and brow-raising) bit about CCTV’s (rather drab) coverage last night was their strange CGI rendition in which America, the Beautiful was used as their space launch music (see video on right)! Back in 1970 when China’s first rocket was launched, notes The Guardian, the music of choice was the Cultural Revolution song The East is Red. How far we’ve come since then!!!
Other news you need to know about the launch after the jump…
- The Tiangong 1 (heavenly palace) lab module lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert last night at 9:16pm.
- In preparation for the launch, almost 100,000 civilians were evacuated from nearby areas, probably to avoid a repeat of past space blunders.
- The Tiangong 1 is expected to remain in orbit for two years, and is an important stepping stone to China’s first space station. Though the modules contain equipment to conduct scientific experiments, the real experiment is to practice and perfect the remote docking mechanism which will be an integral part in China’s space station program.
- In a few weeks, China will launch another unmanned craft, the Shenzhou-8, and attempt to remotely link the pair together in an orbital rendezvous. After a successful link, 2012 will herald the launches of Shenzhou-9 and 10, bringing a human presence to the modules for the first time and allowing astronauts practice at
space toilet squattingmanual docking.
- In the meantime, the lab module has a number of unmanned scientific experiments and capabilities to keep it busy.
China’s future space station
- China’s endgame is to set up
fully armed and operational battlestationspace station around 2020, in order to “carry out a large number of scientific experiments.” Upon completion, the station will be 60 tons, which is much smaller than the 400-ton International Space Station (ISS), but everyone knows size doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it that counts.
- China didn’t always plan on going it alone in the space station race. In the past they’ve applied repeatedly to join Japan, Russia and the United States in operating the ISS, but were cockblocked by the USA, who was suspicious of the level of secrecy around China’s space program.
- To our US readers who are concerned your space hegemony is at risk, rest easy. “They’re doing their version of Spacelab, but that’s something we did back in the ’70s,” says Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation.
To infinity and beyond!
Of course, China doesn’t plan on stopping at a space station. After 2020, there are plans to put Chinese boots on the moon, which conjures up in our head future paranoid American headlines accusing Chinese of messing with Neil Armstrong’s bootprints, knocking over the flag, or other moon related shenanigans.
And while the moon is a prize already sullied by the Americans, China’s success in the face of Obama’s retraction of his prior goal of sending Americans to the moon again would send a large message to the penniless Western world about who is boss in the 21st century.