China, the third nation in the world to launch its own astronauts on its own rockets, is ready for the next step. Within the week, China will launch a test module for rendezvous and docking experiments designed to lead, by 2020, for a permanent orbiting laboratory. (There have been off-and-on discussions about China as a partner on the International Space Station, but current limits on NASA-Chinese ventures, imposed by Congress, effectively rule it out.) The 8.5 ton module is named Tiangong 1 ("Heavenly Palace 1).” WIRED magazine here speculates it could be part of a much larger program including military objectives.
COMMENT: The author quotes the Union of Concerned Scientists as saying this is just a jobs program with no military implications, which is pretty funny considering the UCS thinks practically every U.S. mission has a dark military purpose behind it, and any time WE do rendezvous and docking experiments it's to improve our capability to attack other satellites. There is an inevitable overlap between almost any civilian and military space projects, and it remains to be seen just how much of the Chinese program is scientific and how much effort is devoted to "other purposes." But wearing my space geek hat, I would say this is an important milestone in said exploration, and I wish the Chinese all success.
Also, can we borrow some Chinese inspiration in the area of naming space vehicles. These are symbols of our world's greatness, or at least our potential greatness. China has the Heavenly Palace. We have the space station, space shuttle, and space launch system. Surely we can do better.
NOTE: All posts are, as usual, except sometimes even more emphatically, so, the personal opinion of the author as a private citizen,