China: The The Next Space Superpower

A lunar rover, a crewed space station, and new rockets top China’s space agenda

As 2014 dawns, China has the most active and ambitious space program in the world.

“In terms of technology, are the Chinese at a peer level or more advanced than us? No, absolutely not. What they have that we don’t is political will.”

This slow and steady approach, so unlike the U.S.-Soviet space race, means that Chinese astronauts “spend a lot of time on the ground,” says Brian Harvey, author of the recent book China in Space. “They are very disciplined in not letting themselves be rushed. China is very conscious of its history. They’ve been doing rocketry since 1274, so what’s the hurry?”

[A Chinese Academy of Sciences] report lists technologies that Chinese researchers need to master, including autonomous navigation and high-speed communication systems for deep space, as well as fuel cells and atomic generators to power the spacecraft. Activity on all these engineering fronts could indeed achieve the report’s stated goal, says Harvey: “By 2050, China should be the leading scientific nation in the world.”

“The average age of the Chinese space worker is 27,” says Harvey. “These people are at the beginning of their professional careers. Just imagine them in 20 years, when they have experience and have learned from their mistakes.

A couple weeks ago my foster daughter asked me what I thought would be the most useful foreign language for her to study. My answer: Mandarin.

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