News Update…China Launches Prelude to Its Space Station, ‘Heavenly Palace 1’ –Its Mission: Unknown

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China successfully launched an experimental craft on Thursday paving the way for its first space station amid a blaze of national pride, bringing the growing Asian power closer to matching the United States and Russia with a long-term manned outpost in space.

The Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace", blasted off from a remote site in the Gobi Desert at 9:16 pm (1316 GMT), adding a high-tech sheen to China's National Day celebrations on Oct. 1.


Premier Wen Jiabao watched as the small, unmanned "space lab" and the Long March rocket that heaved it skyward from a pad at Jiuquan in northwest Gansu province, lifted off under clear skies, in images shown live on state television.

It is the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.

Download "Its name … speaks for a dream home the Chinese have long envisioned in the sky. In Chinese folklore, a heavenly palace often refers to the place in outer space where deities reside," the official Xinhua news agency said.

The 8.5-ton Tiangong 1 module is designed to practice an autonomous rendezvous in orbit, in order to prep for a manned space base around 2020.

China-watchers and space specialists are trying to figure out if there’s an additional, hidden agenda for the Heavenly Palace, perhaps as a spacelab equipped strictly for scientific research, or is there a military mission? Or is it a jobs program for China’s “large, young, highly motivated and growing population of space scientists and engineers?” as Gregory Kulacki, from the Union of Concerned Scientists believes.

According to Wired, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a University of California professor and author of China in the 21st Century, has a theory about Beijing’s obsession with spectacle: “It plays a role in confirming a vision, based partly in official myth but also in tangible reality, that China is a once-powerful country that was laid low for a time and has now risen again to a more natural status,” Wasserstrom wrote.

With recently announced plans for new, gigantic rockets and a possible manned mission to an asteroid or even Mars, “China’s progress is steady but slow,” Cheng says. “Manned launches every other year hardly suggests a space-race mentality. At the same time, however, these are steady improvements, from a single man to two-man to three-man. The Tiangong spacelab … will mark another step forwards for China’s manned space program.”

The Daily Galaxy via Reuters and wired.com

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