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What Is the Importance of China’s New Space Station?


Life-size model of the Tianhe core module at the Airshow China on Nov. 7, 2018. While China admits it arrived late to the space station game, it says its new station is modern and includes the latest space technology. (Chinatopix via AP)
What Is the Importance of China’s New Space Station?
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Three Chinese astronauts recently arrived at the country’s new space station in another step forward for the growing space power.

Here is a look at some of the space station’s major goals.

What is the trip’s purpose?

The three-member crew will stay for three months in the station’s main living space, called a module. The module is named Tianhe, which means “Harmony of the Heavens” in Chinese. The astronauts will carry out science experiments and perform maintenance. They also plan to complete space walks and prepare the station to receive two other modules next year.

While China admits it arrived late to the space station game, it says its new station is modern and includes the latest space technology. Tianhe might even outlast the International Space Station (ISS), which is nearing the end of its operational lifespan.

The recent launch brought back China’s crewed space program after a five-year break. China has now sent 14 astronauts into space since its first launch in 2003. It is the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so.

Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng,a nd Liu Boming on June 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng,a nd Liu Boming on June 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Why is it building the station?

As its economy experienced growth in the 1990s, China made a plan for space exploration. Since then, it has attempted to carry out this plan carefully and evenly.

China was barred from joining the ISS. This was mainly over U.S. objections to the Chinese program’s secretive nature and close military connections. It is likely, however, that China would have built its own station anyway because of its goal to become a major space power.

Ji Qiming is the Assistant Director of the China Manned Space Agency. He recently told reporters that the building and operation of the space station will raise the level of Chinese technologies. He also said it will “accumulate experience for all the people.”

The space program is part of an overall drive to help China take on even larger projects. China also wants to expand cooperation with Russia and other, mostly European, countries along with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

Politics and security

China’s space program has been a large part of its national pride. It represents the country’s rise from a poor nation to become the world’s second-largest economy in the last 40 years.

Rocket carrying a crew of Chinese astronauts on June 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Rocket carrying a crew of Chinese astronauts on June 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

This has helped the government strengthen support for the country’s ruling Communist Party. The party’s authoritarian rule and severe limits on political activity have been accepted by most Chinese citizens as long as the economy is growing.

China’s President and head of the party, Xi Jinping, has linked himself to the latest space progress. In his recent comments, Ji gave credit to Xi for setting China’s rise in space as a goal for the country.

As China continues to develop its space program, it is also quickly modernizing its military. This has raised concerns among some of its neighbors, as well as the U.S. and its NATO allies.

China has said it supports the peaceful development of space. But in 2007, some countries expressed concern when the country sent a missile into space to destroy an inactive weather satellite. The event created a field of debris that put other space objects at risk.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Sam McNeil reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.

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Words in This Story

maintenance n. work that is done to keep something in good condition

accumulate v. to gather or acquire (something) gradually as time passes

pride n. a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people

authoritarian adj. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws : not allowing personal freedom

debris n. broken pieces of something

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