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Shenzhou-10 Mission

In mid-June 2013, three astronauts aboard China’s Shenzhou-10 space shuttle docked with the Tiangong-1, which is a small orbiting experimental space lab that China launched in 2011. Shenzhou-10 was China’s fifth manned spaceflight, second manned mission to the Tiangong-1, and longest human spaceflight to date. Over the 15-day mission, the crew conducted both automatic and manual dockings, as well as medical, technological, and scientific experiments while aboard the Tiangong-1.70 China’s second-ever female astronaut, Wang Yaping, gave a physics lesson from the space lab to more than 60 million Chinese students via live broadcast.

President Xi attended the Shenzhou-10 launch and later told the crew in a video conference: ‘‘The space dream is a crucial part of our nation-building dream. With the rapid development of China’s space industry, a great step forward will be made by the Chinese people in the exploration of space.’’

According to Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, Shenzhou-10’s multiple successful dockings with the Tiangong-1 mark the achievement of the second phase of China’s three-phase manned space program. In phase one, China launched several unmanned missions to develop technologies necessary for its first manned spaceflight in 2003. In phase two, China honed its spacecraft rendezvous and docking capabilities. In phase three, scheduled for completion by 2023, China plans to launch a permanent manned space station into orbit.

Official Chinese statements emphasize the civilian aspects of China’s space program and only implicitly refer to the PLA’s role in China’s space strategy. Beijing’s 2011 Space White Paper states China’s objectives in space are the following: " to explore outer space and to enhance understanding of the Earth and the cosmos; to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, promote human civilization and social progress, and to benefit the whole of mankind; to meet the demands of economic development, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress; and to improve the scientific and cultural knowledge of the Chinese people, protect China’s national rights and interests, and build up its national comprehensive strength."

However, the PLA has a significant role in most aspects of China’s space activities. Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, testified to the Commission: ‘‘China’s human space flight efforts are managed by elements of the PLA and require industrial capabilities that are the same as those used for military programs. Thus it might be more accurate to say that China has civil space activities, such as science and exploration, but does not have a civil space program.’’ This suggests even ostensibly civilian projects, such as the Shenzhou missions and the Tiangong-series space labs, support the development of PLA space, counterspace, and conventional capabilities.

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Page last modified: 18-12-2013 19:36:41 ZULU