USA Today reports that China plans to soon launch a test module that will be used to practice the skills for one day constructing a space station.
Smaller than NASA's 85-ton Skylab, launched in 1973, Tiangong I will be unmanned when it launches. The lab will mostly serve as a test-bed for as many as two manned docking missions in its two-year lifetime, says space analyst Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. "It is a logical move in developing manned space capabilities."
The article reports that this module and two more will be used to develop the skills to build a space station around 2020.
China's move into the space lab business doesn't follow the pattern set by the U.S. and Russian space programs. "China is not in a space race," [space analyst Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation] says. "Its program is pragmatic and proceeds very carefully." Developing the capability to send people into space, and perhaps someday land them on the moon, drives the program, which makes no distinction between civilian and military space activities.
Space Coast congressional representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey have often claimed that the Obama administration has ceded global space leadership to China. The absurdity of this claim is exposed by the report that this test bed will be smaller than the first U.S. space station that flew nearly forty years ago.