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Surprising Science

China’s in the Space Race. So What?

Word is China’s first full-fledged space station could launch this month. Is it part of a bid to become a world strategic power or a modest increment in space prowess without military meaning?  

What’s the Latest Development?

China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) and the buzz out of Beijing is that it may fly sooner than expected, perhaps even this month. Some see it as having military meaning or part of a Chinese bid to become a world strategic power. But other analysts say it’s no big deal, just a modest increment in space prowess, “a small step forward along the same path the United States and the Soviet Union crossed decades ago.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Dean Cheng, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington, D.C., says that in political terms, Tiangong 1 is another reminder that China intends to be a space player for the foreseeable future, including the realm of human spaceflight. It’s “a powerful political signal that China is ascendant, and the U.S. is descending.”


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