Book Review: China’s Space Program – Jeff Foust
Some time in the next two months, in all likelihood, China will launch Shenzhou 6, its second manned mission. Like the Shenzhou 5 flight two years ago, this mission will capture the world’s attention for at least a brief time, and be the focus of intense speculation about China’s future plans in space. Some of that speculation will claim that China’s manned spaceflight plans will create a new “space race” with the United States to see who will be the first to land humans (back) on the Moon. Indeed, that has already started: Newsday columnist James Pinkerton suggested earlier this month that “soon enough, it will become apparent that the Chinese are serious about space exploration, including colonization of the moon” and that “when we realize that a new rival is beating us, we will get moving again and start competing to get our kind to the moon.” Such claims are hard to justify given the glacial progress of the Chinese space program, which has launched less than 100 missions since its first satellite launch in 1970. (See “The phony space race”, The Space Review, June 9, 2003.) By the same token, though, Chinese progress to date cannot be written off: it takes considerable technical expertise to safely fly humans in space.