Last Updated: 2012-06-19
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An NNN-Xinhua Special Report by Li Huizi, Jia Yong & Li Xuanliang

BEIJING, June 19 (NNN-XINHUA) -- The three Chinese astronauts have entered the country's orbiting space laboratory Tiangong-1 for the first time and they will live and work there for about 10 days, paving the way for the construction of a space station around 2020.

China has become the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to acquire the skills necessary for extra-vehicular activities and space docking, and, by acquiring these skills, the nation has gained confidence in its high-tech development capabilities.

Acquiring space docking skills allows China to supply manpower and material to an orbiting module, marking a significant step forward in China's manned space programme which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

More importantly, China's ancient dream of "Flying Apsaras" as enshrined in the frescoes of the Dunhuang Caves, has been realized.

The leapfrog development of China's manned space programme can be attributed to the country's initiative of reform and opening-up, according to Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of the space programme.

The progress has greatly benefited the lives of ordinary people. It is estimated that an investment of one yuan (about 15.7 US cents) in the space programme will yield a return of seven to 12 yuan. The development of the programme has also sped up the research of new materials.

However, China is undoubtedly a latecomer in space development compared with the US and Russia.

"The Chinese programme may lag behind the US, but it is taking incremental steps and building upon each one. Furthermore, now that the US is dependent on Russia for transporting its astronauts to the International Space Station, China is being perceived increasingly as a major space power," said Dr. Erik Seedhouse, a Canadian space analyst.

"While China's human spaceflight accomplishments to date put it roughly where the US and the Soviet Union were in the mid-1960s, China has consistently stuck to a development timeline for its programme and met the realistic goals set out in its Five-year Plans.

"Their programme has been a steady but un-rushed effort to develop technologies and extend its capacities."

The space analyst said China's comprehensive, moderately-paced programme was more than capable of landing its astronauts on the Moon "within the next 10 years".

The progress of the country's manned space programme reflects a path of self-reliance and innovation, offering an example for development with Chinese characteristics.

Today's China is no longer merely the world's manufacturer of shoes, stockings and cigarette lighters; the nation has gained confidence in its development of space technology.