2012-05-10 (China Military News cited from Xinhua and by James Clay Moltz) — The US space shuttle is no longer in service, and it will likely be several years before the United States can resume independent human spaceflight. As a result, China’s upcoming Shenzhou IX mission to the Tiangong-1 space module will be viewed by some Americans with envy.
Fortunately, as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the commercial sector work to develop new boosters, US astronauts can still travel to the International Space Station aboard a Russian “taxi”, thus highlighting the value of international cooperation.In the past decade, China has succeeded in building a strong record of national accomplishment in human spaceflight and space science, showing increasing skill and sophistication.
It is now about to enter a phase of longer-duration human flights, with the possibility of conducting scientific experiments on board. Hopefully, it will share its findings and use these developments to promote international cooperation.
There will be some in the US media who will use the Shenzhou IX mission to claim that China is ahead and that the US has lost its way in space. But while domestic budgetary disputes have complicated US space planning, it is worth remembering that NASA carried out its first space station mission to its huge Skylab spacecraft back in 1973. By this time, NASA had already conducted multiple landings on the Moon. Thus, China’s human spaceflight accomplishments should not be viewed as a threat.
As a second-generation space power, China’s biggest hurdle is not technology, but operational experience. Like all space-faring nations, China is likely to make some mistakes. Many in the international community, and some in China, view the orbital debris generated by China’s 2007 anti-satellite test as such a mistake. How China deals with these mistakes and how well it works with international partners will be important measures of its future success in space.
The Shenzhou IX flight and the prospect of long-duration Chinese missions in space need not become a source of increased US-Chinese tension. Instead, they should increase the technical rationale for enhanced bilateral cooperation and protection of the space environment, which is in the interests of both countries.
In recent years, NASA has attempted to build bridges with China through trips by NASA administrators Michael Griffin in 2006 and Charles Bolden in 2010. Two US-Chinese technical working groups were also established.
But no progress has been made since 2010 due to a Congressional ban on such cooperation because of lingering concerns about Chinese military use of civil space technology and possible industrial espionage. Addressing these US concerns could help promote renewed cooperation.
China has long cooperated with other countries in civil space. It has acquired technology from a variety of nations, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and others in order to develop its capabilities.
Since 1992, it has contributed technology and know-how to less developed nations through the Asia-Pacific Multilateral Cooperation in Space Technology and Applications program and, since 2008, through the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization.