China has made one small step into building its own space station by 2020 by successfully launching an unmanned spacecraft into orbit on Tuesday.
The Shenzhou-8 was launched from the Gobi Desert at approximately 5:58 am local time. If plans follow through correctly, it will make contact with the Tiangon-1 module that was launched into orbit on Sept. 29. This would become China's first docking mission. China expects the Shenzhou-8 to be docked within two days.
However, the space docking will only achieve what the U.S. and the Russians achieved in the 1960s. However, this doesn't deter the morale of the Chinese government.
Mastering the technology of rendezvous and docking will lay a firm foundation for China to build a space station, Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China's manned space engineering project, told Xinhua, a Chinese run news organization. Once we have mastered this technology, we will possess the basic technology and capacity to build a space station, and this will open up possibilities for even larger activities in space.
The Shenzhou-8 carries with it a Science in Microgravity Box, or SIMBOX, where the Chinese plans to conduct 17 experiments. The SIMBOX is a joint venture between German and Chinese scientists. This is the first time that the Chinese has cooperated with a Western nation regarding their space program, according to Space Daily.
The SIMBOX contains plants, bacteria and even cancer cells. The experiments will expose these items to zero gravity and radiation for three weeks, while Chinese and German scientists investigate biological and medical issues.
This is a real breakthrough in technology, said Dr. Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, according to The Guardian. To dock a spacecraft will involve a wide-ranging number of capabilities that mark a really big leap - much more so than just taking a spacewalk.
Besides building a space station, China hopes to land a taikonauts on the moon in the coming decades.
Timeline of the Chinese Space Program
China builds its first rocket and missile research facility and begins conducting experiments.
China builds the Jiuquan Space Center in the Gansu province.
China develops its first rockets and starts to create an entire series of rockets called the Changzheng, or the Long March.
On April 24, China becomes the fifth country to launch a satellite, the Dong Fang Hong I, into orbit. It is carried into space by a Long March rocket.
China begins to produce bigger and more powerful rockets. This is the start of Project 921, a plan to launch a Chinese man into space.
A Chinese rocket explodes during takeoff from Xichang, killing six people.
The Shenzhou is launched. This is the first of a series of unmanned experimental spacecrafts.
After years of research, on October 15, Yan Liwei, becomes the first Chinese national to be sent into space. China becomes only the third country to achieve this feat.
China launches the Shenzhen-6 with two taikonauts for an experimental mission.
By 2020, China plans to have built its own space station. China also hopes to have landed on the moon.