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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #316: October 13, 2005

Japan Hails China's Successful Launch of Manned Shenzhou-6

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan Hails China's Successful Launch of Manned Shenzhou-6


It is truly a splendid feat and a milestone for China's space technology development. The successful launch of Shenzhou-6, the second manned spacecraft by China, is genuinely respected and admired by the people all over the world, including Japan.

Space technology is not a simple task of extending a specific field of science but it is a fruit brought about through combining, condensing and packaging various fields of science and technology. Naturally, it is a proof that each segment of science and technology supporting the launch are of top-notch levels, but more significantly, it is the existence of the effective system to manage the enormous task of concentrating those abilities into the reality of launching that is truly astonishing.

As reported in the article, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Mr Hosoda hailed the success of the launch of Shenzhou-6, and in answering a question by a reporter commented, "the technology used in launching manned spacecraft and satellite are different."

As the Chinese spacecraft is carrying its crew around the globe, Japan's unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa ("falcon") is currently hovering just a few kilometers away from an asteroid, analyzing the small heavenly body. After a few months' stay and observation, it is planned to retrieve the dust from the planet and bring it back to earth. The ion-propulsion engine technology utilized in the voyage of Hayabusa is notably different from burning a mammoth rocket engine reliably and safely to take human beings off the ground. Another example of difference might be that while analyzing an asteroid by flying in tandem with it for a long time is a feat no one has accomplished before, sending people into space is, in a way, a technology on its way to become routine. (In fact, the third "civilian tourist" into space has just returned to earth earlier in the week.)

Thus, the real significance of the Shenzhou-6 launch is not necessary in the science and technology per se, but it is in the demonstration of the level of the China's advancement of technology and the system to manage a large project - that it is catching up with the forerunners.

It might also be interesting to review briefly the political and social backgrounds of the U.S. and Russian space programs have experienced.

It is no secret that the Russian (at the time the U.S.S.R.) and the U.S. space race was offspring of the cold war. Beaten by the Russians of launching the first satellite and sending the first man into space, the U.S. pushed vigorously to realize the self-imposed goal "to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade" as in the speech by President Kennedy in 1961.

It was a relatively healthy - in the cold-war environment - race between the two big powers. The space programs in both countries were enthusiastically supported by the peoples of each country - though to be precise, the thoughts of the people of then U.S.S.R. have not been fully reconciled. The process was supported by the military and large industries as well, as the technology to send man to the moon was deemed adjacent, if not identical, to that utilized in developing powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The largest driving force was the political will, that the success would be a powerful propaganda to show the power of the winner, or to lose would be an intolerable shame.

The U.S.S.R., unable to continue funding the project dropped out the race after a few years and concentrated the lessened resources to mainly near-space - geo-orbital region - explorations. On the other hand, the U.S., successfully fulfilling the commitment by sending Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969, quickly lost enthusiasm in enhancing manned spacecraft program. But the inertia - and perhaps the taste of glory - evolved into a multilaterally sponsored space station project including a vehicle to provide transportation. It is interesting to see the aftermaths. The U.S. developed the gorgeous Space Shuttle but is plagued by problems while Russia's Soyuz spaceship is unspectacularly and diligently shuttling men and supplies to the International Space Station, which the U.S. and others, including Japan, hold large stakes.

Success of the Shenzhou-6 launch is an accomplishment truly worth congratulating and it is expected for its space technology to further advance. And now, as China has added another factor, which is perhaps even superfluous in that respect, for itself to be a major "force" in the world, it might worth considering ways for itself finally to become a "good citizen" in the global community. Then the people worldwide could begin to listen to Chinese leaders out of respect rather than fear.

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