With the successful launch of Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace -1) unmanned module on September 29, China took a significant step forward in realizing its ambitions in space.
China's manned space program consists of three steps. The first step, to send an astronaut into space, was achieved in 2003. The second step, to realize multi-person space flight for extended periods of time, has been fulfilled twice. During China's third manned space flight in 2008, Chinese astronauts walked in space.
Tiangong-1, whose mission has a projected life expectancy of two years, is aimed at completing tasks resulting from the second step, and laying the foundation for the third step's intention of forming a permanent space station by 2020.
According to space scientists, Tiangong-1 will serve as a target spacecraft for rendezvous and docking experiments, and an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft will be launched later this year to dock with it. If successful, China will become the third country in the world to have proprietary rendezvous and docking technology, after the United States and Russia.
Since its manned space program started in 1992, China has made a series of major breakthroughs. Its progress in other hi-tech programs carried out in sequence in the past decades is also evident. This year alone, the country's first aircraft carrier carried out sea trials, its first manned deep-sea submersible reached a record depth of 5,188 meters in the Pacific Ocean, and its lunar probe Chang'e-2 entered an orbit around the second Lagrange Point (L2) about 1.5 million km from the Earth.
These achievements have been attained by developed Western countries before China. But for China, a late starter in the application of modern science and technology, they are important landmarks in its modernization process. They have not only boosted the country's research and development strength but also prepared China to make a greater contribution to the international community.
Take China's planned space station, for example. Rapidly developing China needs a space station to conduct studies on microgravity, astronomy and space radiation biology. More importantly, the planned Chinese facility is very likely to become mankind's only foothold in space, as the International Space Station will terminate operations in 2020.
"China's space station will be an open platform. The Chinese people will be more than happy to conduct scientific experiments with foreign scientists and astronauts," said Zhang Jianqi, former deputy chief of China's Manned Space Program.
This is the strong commitment of China to the world.