(See my other Space related Blog posts) – I came across the article Three Chinese astronauts arrive at space station yesterday. The three, the second crew for the Tiangong-3 Space Station, are expected to remain aboard for six months. Their mission will be to complete the assembly and construction of the station. I am of two minds on this achievement.
On the one hand, establishing a second space station beyond the ISS is a step forward. Space is becoming the next frontier for humans to conquer. The zero gravity manufacturing techniques and abundant raw materials found in space offer substantial commercial opportunities. The use of space for terrestrial communications is already being harnessed. As is the use of space based platforms to provide rich data on the Earth’s ecosystem and geography. Likewise, it is the perfect place to observe distant star systems.
The Chinese have longer term plans to send manned missions to the Moon and to eventually establish a base there. These are steps towards spreading humanity out over more than a single vulnerable location.
On the other hand, I think too few realize that China has begun to catch up and could soon challenge the US. I suspect that if you polled average people on the street about Tiangong-3 few would have heard of it. The ISS is scheduled for retirement in 2024. There is currently no replacement. Tiangong-3 is expected to have at least a decade of life ahead. Given the political challenges that China has made, the US must at least maintain equivalence in space.