China Outlines Space Station Plans, NASA Future Debated

April 15th, 2010

chines youth learning about the space program

While the need for clarity swirls around U.S. President Obama’s plans for human spaceflight and NASA, China is pressing forward on its long march to gain a foothold in Earth orbit.

Wang Wenbao, director of the Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office, outlined future plans here on April 14 at the National Space Symposium 2010.

China’s is hard at work preparing its Tiangong 1 (Heavenly Palace) space station module for launch next year, Wang said. That module would serve as a rendezvous and docking target for follow-on unpiloted and piloted Shenzhou spacecraft to hone skills in building a larger space complex in Earth orbit.

Wang sketched out a plan for space station development that would occur between 2011-2022. That agenda also makes use of a cargo spacecraft capable of delivering 5.5 tons to an evolved Heavenly Palace.

The section of the second batch of Chinese astronauts has taken place, Wang added, including the addition of two female astronauts to its space travel ranks.

The Chinese space official noted several times in his talk the quest for transparency in his country’s space activities, stressing that the welcome mat is out for space agencies and organizations in the world to visit China and discuss cooperation.

NASA’s future

Meanwhile, earlier in the symposium program, NASA’s Deputy Administrator Lori Garver reinforced her contention that President Obama is ready to commit to a healthy space program, as well as building a future for the space industry that is bright. That future is one that involves increased reliance on the commercial space sector.

Garver emphasized her belief that what’s in the cards for announcement today by President Obama in Florida is assuring that NASA is not a jobs program but a sustainable space program.

However, not everyone is embracing President Obama’s plans for NASA. In that number is Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the Moon.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Armstrong — along with fellow Apollo astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Jim Lovell – criticized Obama’s cancellation of NASA’s Moon, Mars and beyond program. Doing so, the astronaut trio stated “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature.”