China placed a space lab Tiangong-1 int orbit last September 2011, were you paying attention?
It has been on orbit and undergoing checkout operations. This August they have announced that they are going to place astronauts on board. Launch will be on a Long March 2F rocket, the Xinhua news agency reported Friday. For those counting the number of countries that can independently launch astronauts to their own countries lab is one…China. It appears that great strides are being made by them and you only have to look at the results of their program to see the progress.
China is the only country with current stand alone capability to send men into orbit and, by the way, also have a place they can call their own to send them to. In an interesting side note when the space lab was launched a 98 second promotional video was made using America the beautiful as the background music. A poke at the lackluster performance of the American manned program, you be the judge. In a comment to The Guardian about the choice of music Chen Zhansheng of the CCTV propaganda department told the newspaper “I don’t know how to answer your question, I cannot help you.”
Last November a Shenzhou-8 craft that was launched and docked with the already orbiting Tiangong-1 module. The assembly had orbited Earth several times, with on board instruments working normally. This demonstrated the ability to automatically dock, a key step in construction of a space station. The manned launch aims to demonstrate the ability to manually dock. This announcement shows that they have confidence that there already on orbit lab is ready to support manned operations and marks yet another important step for them.