2011-11-04 (China Military News cited from AFP) — China is opening up its military-run manned space programme to foreign nations, seeking its own alliances as US concerns see it excluded from the international space station project, analysts say.
The Asian country this week successfully carried out its first docking in orbit, and the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft involved in the delicate manoeuvre carried German life science and microgravity experiments on board.
It is just one small step, but it is the first time any other country has been given access to China’s flagship manned spaceflight programme since it began 20 years ago.
In contrast, Beijing readily co-operates internationally in other fields such as astrophysics and Earth observation.
Isabelle Sourbes-Verger, a China space programme expert at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said the internationalisation of its manned flights showed China was no longer playing catch-up with other nations.
Germany had an interest in broadening its choice of launchers for its regular microgravity experiments, she said, adding that “nothing was forcing the Chinese to open up their programme to external partners”.
The implication, she said, is that Beijing no longer sees the field as primarily the domain of the military.
The final frontier has long been an arena of competition between global superpowers, as evidenced in the 1950s and 60s by the race between Moscow and Washington to be first in orbit, to put a man into space and go to the Moon.
Asia’s new superpower began its manned exploration of space in 1990, on the back of bought-up Russian technology as the Soviet Union broke up, and placed the project under the purview of the People’s Liberation Army.
It now sees the programme as a symbol of its own global stature and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
China is only the third country to send humans into space and has announced plans to build a space laboratory by 2016 and a permanent space station by 2020.