The Heavenly Palace: China and the Final Frontier

Last week was a proud one for China.  Two days before celebrating its 62nd anniversary, the PRC successfully launched Tiangong-1.  Asian Scientist provides the details:

On Thursday night, China took a giant leap in its manned space program with the successful launch of Tiangong-1 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in Northwest China.

The flawless unmanned flight onboard the highly-proven Long March 2F rocket marks the first step by China to establish a manned space station that will be occupied by three persons around 2020.

Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, is China’s first spacecraft designed for orbital docking tests and space research. It consists of two major segments – the experiment module and resource module. The experiment module is the primary work and living area for future spacemen.

This is a test mission and it is expected to remain in orbit for two years. If successful, China will begin work towards building the actual manned space station.

To be expected, the event was broadly celebrated in China.  Reactions by people in the US were less celebratory, as described by Daily News and Analysis:

In the US, space enthusiasts rue the fact that the Obama administration’s failure to support the Constellation Program has left the field wide open for China to forge ahead with manned conquest of space.

Further eliciting US response, prior to the physical launch CCTV broadcast an animation set to an interesting musical selection.  From The Guardian:

…the backing music in question is America the Beautiful – more or less an unofficial national anthem of the United States. The Guardian spotted the blunder after picking up the video from the Reuters news agency while covering the launch.

It could hardly be more different from the music associated with the launch of China’s first rocket in 1970. That satellite transmitted the Cultural Revolution anthem, The East is Red, extolling the virtues of the Communist party and Chairman Mao.

America the Beautiful, which was composed by a New York church organist in 1882, has long been a favourite of US patriots. It has been proposed as the national hymn and a replacement for The Star-Spangled Banner as US national anthem.

The intent of the selection of this song is open for debate.  One interpretation is provided by Miles Yu of The Washington Times:

The most bizarre and clearest demonstration of this taunting spirit surfaced 15 minutes before liftoff. As hundreds of millions of Chinese watched, Chinese Central TV, tightly controlled by the state and no doubt with approval from higher authority, broadcast a 90-second digital illustration and computer animation of the Heavenly Palace space program. It included 70 seconds of “America the Beautiful,” one of the United States’ most patriotic songs after the national anthem, as background music for the animation. The musical juxtaposition was done in the same spirit as Peter Tchaikovsky’s insertion of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, in his triumphant 1812 Overture celebrating the defeat of the hegemonic Napoleon at the hands of the great Russian motherland.

For more information on the US and China’s space program, see U.S. Boldly Goes No More as China’s Space Program Takes Off, via CDT.


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