China winds up space race with manned mission to orbiting lab

China will launch a manned space mission on Monday as the country works towards setting up its own space station. Astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will be on board the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft as it blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert. They will arrive at China’s orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 within two days and stay for 30 more before returning to earth. The pair will carry out equipment repairs as well as research projects on aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, atomic space clocks and solar storms.

It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions.

Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office

Beijing is pouring billions of dollars into its space programme in a bid to catch up with the US and Europe. It announced in April that it aims to send a spacecraft “around 2020” to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover to explore the Red Planet’s surface. The nation’s first lunar rover was launched in late 2013, and while it was beset by mechanical troubles it far outlived its expected lifespan, finally shutting down only last month. It intends to set up its own manned space station by 2022, and eventually put one of its citizens on the surface of the moon.

Chinese politicians certainly have wanted to work with the United States in space, to show they are an accepted part of the international family of space-faring nations, but with their own space station forthcoming and international partners other than the US willing and lining up to work with them, that imperative decreases

Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College