China’s expanding space program

Chinese astronauts wave before the launch of the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft
Oct. 17, 2016: Chinese taikonauts Jin Haipeng (R) and Chen Dong wave during a farewell ceremony before the launch of the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft (source: dpa)
  • China is the only power with a long-term commitment to a manned space program
  • It is testing antisatellite weapons and developing plans for a lunar base
  • U.S. complacency about its current technological lead would be ill-advised
  • Chinese advances will spur Asian rivals to cooperate or develop their own programs

Of countries with ambitions in near-Earth orbit and beyond, China is most likely to succeed in establishing a permanent human presence outside our home world. The accomplishments of China's rapidly expanding space program will in turn inspire other powers to either collaborate or compete. These new endeavors in space will have important ramifications on Earth, as major states jockey for position on humanity's final frontier.

Those who minimize Chinese achievements point out that these successes came long after technological breakthroughs by the United States and the Soviet Union. There is some rationality to this line of thinking. China first sent a manned mission into space in 2003 – over four decades after the Soviet Union and the U.S. Nevertheless, China is only the third country in the world to launch human beings into orbit through its own independent efforts.

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