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China launches three-member crew into space to dock with space lab

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Blasting off from the Gobi Desert, the Shenzhou 10 craft is carrying three astronauts on what is expected to be the China's longest crewed space mission to date. Propelled by a Long March-2F rocket, the craft is scheduled to dock with the Tiangong-1 space module. Once there, the three-member crew will transfer supplies to the space lab, which has been in orbit since September 2011.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - China has noticeably increased the pace of its space program. First launching astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit in 2003, China has since conducted 18 space launches in 2012, according to the Pentagon.

This latest launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center marks the start of China's fifth crewed space mission.

During its planned 15 days in orbit, the crew will master capabilities in order to operate the manned space platform. "The functionality, performance, and coordination of all systems will be evaluated during this mission," Wu Ping, a spokesperson for China's Manned Space Program said at a news conference.

Another main objective of the mission will be to test technologies related to the construction of a space station. China is seeking to establish a long-term human presence in space.

The last crewed mission last year carried its first female astronaut and was the first to make a manual docking with the space module. The crew for this mission will also include a woman, Wang Yaping, and two male astronauts, Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang.

"These longer duration missions and space dockings are essential practice for any kind of long-term, more permanent presence in space or a mission to, say, the moon," Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation says.

China's growing financial and military clout has unsettled some Western observers. A recent 92-page report on Chinese military development released by the Pentagon highlighted the advances in China's space capabilities.

"China is developing a multi-dimensional program to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict," the report said.

These developments come after The U.S. closed its space shuttle program in 2011 and is no longer pursuing manned space exploration. Russia and China remain the only two countries in the world capable of independently sending humans into space.

"In some ways, they have overtaken the U.S., at least temporarily," the Heritage Foundation's Cheng says. "Of course, the U.S., and even more Russia, has more experience in manned space. China is not, at this time, capable of reaching the Moon.

"But like the tortoise and the hare, China is slowly catching up with the U.S."

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