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China's 'space dream': A Long March to the Moon and beyond

China's 'space dream': A Long March to the Moon and beyond
April 29, 2021

BEIJING (AFP) – The launch of the first module of China's new space station - "Heavenly Palace" - on Thursday underlined how far the country has come in achieving its space dream.

The Tianhe core module houses life support equipment and a living space for astronauts, and is another key step in Beijing's grand plans to establish a permanent human presence in space.

Beijing has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The country has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

But Beijing sees its space project as a mark of its rising global stature and growing technological might.

Here is a look at China's space programme through the decades, and where it is headed:

- Mao's vow -

Soon after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong pronounced: "We too will make satellites."

It took more than a decade, but in 1970, China launched its first satellite on a Long March rocket.

Human spaceflight took decades longer, with Yang Liwei becoming the first Chinese "taikonaut" in 2003.

As the launch approached, concerns over the viability of the mission caused Beijing to cancel a live television broadcast at the last minute.

But it went smoothly, with Yang orbiting the Earth 14 times during a 21-hour flight aboard the Shenzhou 5.

China has launched five crewed missions since.

- Space station and 'Jade Rabbit' -

Following in the footsteps of the United States and Russia, China is striving to build a space station circling the planet.

The Tiangong-1 lab was launched in September 2011.

In 2013, the second Chinese woman in space, Wang Yaping, gave a video class from inside the space module to children across the world's most populous country.