The recent successful docking of the Tiangong 1 module with the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft is an indication that China now has the capability to transport astronauts and supplies to and from a space station of its own. From the Telegraph:
When the Tiangong 1 module docked successfully with the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft in the early hours of Thursday morning, China took a giant step towards its dream of becoming the pre-eminent power in space, a position some experts believe it may claim by 2040.
And with the Russians also stating that manned space missions are no longer a priority, it is likely that – within 15 years or so – the next men to set foot on the moon will be Chinese.
For the millions of Chinese who stayed up to watch the rendezvous of the two unmanned craft live on television, its success wasn’t just a matter of enormous pride that China had become only the third nation after the US and Russia to master orbital docking. It was also a message to the rest of the world of China’s ever-growing reach and ambition, as each successive mission in the country’s space programme narrows the technological gap with its rivals.
At a time when the US is mired in an economic downturn and both public and financial support for the space agency Nasa is at its lowest ebb ever, China is forging ahead with plans to have its own space station by the end of the decade.