China Successfully Launches Its Second Space Station


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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China successfully launched its second space station into orbit Thursday, significantly accelerating the new space race with America.

China’s new space station, dubbed Tiangong-2, will host three crew members for up to 20 days. Once in orbit, it will be visited by manned mission Shenzhou 11 in October. Tiangong-2, which translates to “Heavenly Palace 2,” is carrying 14 scientific payloads.

Tiangong-2 is quite small compared to the first Soviet and U.S. space stations. The station weighs 8.6 metric tons, while the 1971 Soviet station Salyut 1 was 18.6 metric tons, and the 1973-launched American Skylab was 77 metric tons. The International Space Station (ISS) now in orbit, is approximately 400 metric tons by comparison and 356 feet long. China’s station will be 47 feet long.

China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, was launched in 2011 and weighed 8.5 metric tons.

Simply installing a space station is not the only Chinese space-related objective. The country plans to land a solar-powered rover on Mars in 2020, while NASA intends to launch its own  $2.1 billion dollar nuclear isotope-powered Mars rover the same year.

Since launching its first manned space mission in 2003, China staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the Moon, increased its cooperation in space with Europe, and launched a demo space station — making it wholly prepared for its latest space endeavor. The country has launched a total of five crewed flights since 2003.

In spite of an impressive laundry list of space milestones, China’s space program still faces serious problems. The Chinese lunar rover had numerous mechanical problems and was ultimately abandoned. China’s first attempt to send a satellite into Mars orbit in 2011 failed when the rocket carrying it blew up before even reaching Earth orbit.

Meanwhile, NASA astronauts require the help of the Russians to reach space and are being forced by the Obama administration to delay the Mars mission until 2030. Attempts to return U.S. astronauts to orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are now in the hands of private companies. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is racing Boeing to be the first private company to send humans to the ISS, so that NASA can focus on expanding access to space.

President Barack Obama twice stymied programs initiated during the Bush administration designed to take humans to Mars by leaking information to the press about them and threatening to veto the projects. Obama repeatedly tries to slash space exploration funding and redirect it to Earth science programs — which just so happen to include climate modeling initiatives designed to measure global warming. Obama increased NASA’s budget for these environmental programs, especially those that study global warming, by 63 percent.

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