China Spaceship Launch Sparks 21st Century Space Race

Not too long ago, for a rural boy like Liu Wang, riding a bicycle was considered flying. He recalled that he passed by the 7-km dirt road near his home “in the blink of an eye.” Now, however, Liu Wang has upgraded his gears. He is one of three Chinese astronauts to successfully dock two spaceships in orbit for the first time – marking a pivotal point to China’s quest to create a manned space station in Earth orbit.

The success of the docking of a manned space capsule makes China the third nation, besides the United States and Russia, to achieve such action. The completion of the docking is highly technical, requiring two vessels to come together delicately in high-speed orbit. Such a mission brings China closer to building its own space station in 2020. Not only was the docking significant to China’s status of modernization, but the crew also had China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang. Basically, China has killed two birds with one stone with this space exploration experience.

As China pushes to become a global space power, its ambitions go far beyond building a space station or moon landing. In 2011, China already launched its own version of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) – the Beidou satellite navigation system. The satellites are aimed to cover Asia this year and the whole world by 2020. Furthermore, by 2016, China aims to “increase the use of satellites to contribute to the development of strategic industries and satisfy the needs of the economy” in telecommunications, Earth observation, and navigation systems. Surely, China is not slowing its pace in space power at all.

In the midst of such achievement and success, what does it mean to the international community? Are we experiencing the Sputnik Space Race again? Ironically, as China starts to amp up its space exploration gears, United States has been cutting NASA expenses and has scaled back manned space exploration. In a global perspective, China’s achievement has marked its international stature. Surely enough, China has not only a quite robust economy, but a rising space exploration status as well.

With this in mind, the United States faces two options: do something or step aside and allow China to surpass in the near future. Over the recent years, the United States has emphasized studies in math and science, starting from elementary school and up. Nonetheless, without proper funding, emphasis on any subject or field doesn’t create desired results. If United States is to restart the Sputnik competition, it must resume through proper funding towards NASA and education for all levels in order to assure future progress. It is important for the global community to acknowledge China’s achievements and understand that China’s rate of modernization surpasses practically any nation in the world today.  

In the meantime, may citizens around the world sit back, relax, and enjoy the many journeys of space exploration China is projected to accomplish.

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Michelle Tham

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. American University.

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