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China's Manned Space Program: Sun Tzu or Apollo Redux

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China is on a fast track into space. Chinese officials have stated that a manned space launch is imminent--likely in the second half of 2003. The four launches since 1999 of the Shenzhou Divine or Sacred Vessel spacecraft intended to launch the taikonauts into orbit evidence substantial Chinese technical achievement and the seriousness of the program. Those achievements, plus pronouncements about timetables, space laboratories, shuttles, space stations, lunar bases, and now Mars missions, naturally make one wonder just what the Chinese are up to. Is there a new, twenty-first century space race brewing If there is, who is racing, and toward what goal Analysis and commentary have spawned several, often one-dimensional, scenarios. Policy and academic analyses of Chinese space activities have been limited and stovepiped within disciplines. With few exceptions, analyses have either focused on technical parameters or have been highly politicized as part of threat assessments, usually in the context of U.S. plans for missile defense. In the case of the former, though much of the Chinese program remains cloaked in secrecy due to both the nature of the Chinese system and the military aspects of the topic, considerable agreement exists among technical analysts concerning Chinese capabilities, now and potentially in the future. Securing consensus regarding political intent remains more difficult. There are analysts who feel that the pursuit of space technology can be benign and development oriented others perceive it as inherently nefarious. That China is so large and complex that one can look there for proof of any thesis, and find it, complicates the situation.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Manned Spacecraft

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