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April 25, 2016

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Xi calls for new chapter in space

PRESIDENT Xi Jinping yesterday called on the country’s scientists and engineers to usher in a new chapter in aerospace development.

In an instruction issued on the first China Space Day, Xi urged them to “seize the strategic opportunity and keep innovating to make a greater contribution to the country’s overall growth and the welfare of mankind.”

He saluted all those who had contributed to China’s aerospace development over the past six decades. “Becoming an aerospace power has always been a dream we’ve been striving for,” Xi said.

China Space Day commemorates the launch of its first satellite on April 24, 1970.

“In establishing China Space Day, we are commemorating history, passing on the spirit, and galvanizing popular enthusiasm for science, exploration of the unknown and innovation, particularly among young people,” Xi said.

In a separate instruction, Premier Li Keqiang also called for advancement of space science and technology and their practical applications, also saying that he wants aerospace agencies to foster more innovative talent.

How to retrieve and reuse manned spacecraft in future missions is one of the technological advances being studied by China, the chief engineer of the nation’s manned space program said yesterday. “It’s our next goal to reuse manned spacecraft. We want to make our space exploration cost-effective,” Zhou Jianping said.

The United States developed partially reusable manned spacecraft capable of reaching low Earth orbit. But they were retired in 2011 due to high costs and the risks involved. An accident in 2003 killed seven astronauts.

Zhou did not go into details of the project, but stressed his team’s focus on saving costs, giving an example from the Tiangong space lab series.

Tiangong-1 was due to be followed by Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3, but scientists managed to incorporate all tasks planned for the lab’s third generation into Tiangong-2, he said. There has been no need to develop Tiangong-3.

Meanwhile, senior figures in China’s space program said the nation was open to cooperation with all nations, including the US.

“China will not rule out cooperating with any country, and that includes the United States,” said Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut.

Payload has been reserved in China’s space station, due to enter service around 2022, for international projects and foreign astronauts, Yang said.

On request, China will train astronauts for other countries, and jointly train astronauts with the European space station, he said.

“The future of space exploration lies in international cooperation. It’s true for us, and for the United States too,” he said.

Zhou added: “It is well understood that the United States is a global leader in space technology. But China is no less ambitious in contributing to human development. Cooperation between major space players will be conducive to the development of all mankind.”

In 2011, citing security reasons, the US Congress passed a law to prohibit NASA from hosting Chinese visitors at its facilities and working with researchers affiliated to any Chinese government entity or enterprise. The ban remains in effect.

The US-dominated International Space Station, which blocks China, is scheduled to end its service in 2024.

At that point, China’s space station could be the only operational one in outer space, at least for a while.

Commenting on Sino-US space relations earlier this week, Xu Dazhe, head of China’s National Space Administration, cited Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster “The Martian,” in which a US astronaut is stranded on Mars but is eventually brought back to Earth by NASA, with help from China.

Xu noted that China and the United States established a special dialogue mechanism last year and talks would continue this year.

For chief engineer Zhou, the movie simply reflects what most people want. “Many American astronauts and scientists that I have met said they would like to work with us, if given the freedom of choice.”


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