Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A great Gagarin tribute. China unveils plan for its space station

        Trust China to do it.

        Instead of the usual speeches and cultural programmes to mark the 50th anniv of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12,1961, China observed the anniversary in a bigger way which will be always be remembered.

        Any guess how China observed the anniv?

        On Monday April 25, almost a fortnight after the anniversary, it unveiled a detailed plan of its own space station which is expected to become operational in 2020---around the same time when the International Space Station (ISS) could perhaps end its life span.

        Right now the Chinese space station has been christened Tiangong which means heavenly palace, but the office of China's Manned Space Engineering Office has invited the public to suggest names for the space station. Why cannot India emulate the example of China and invite atleast school students to think of names for the rover which will land on the moon during the Chandrayaan-2 mission tentatively in 2013?

        According to ``China Daily,'' and other media, the weight of the Chinese station will be 66 tonnes which will accommodate a crew of three and will have two labs relating mainly to the areas of astronomy, microgravity and biological studies. Contrast this to the weight of the ISS which is 419 tonnes and the Russian Mir Station (decommissioned in 2001) 137 tonnes.

       China has invited scientists from all over the world to participate in its space station programme. The question is what will be India's response?  It has been dithering over the decision to take part in the ISS despite repeated pressures from the US including its president Obama.

       With the growing stature of India as an important global space power will there be a competition now between the US and the China to pull this country towards their own space stations?. This is of course not to suggest that the ISS is entirely an US enterprise: it is a 17-nation programme.

        ``China Daily,'' states that the cargo spaceship to transport supplies to the Chinese space station will also be developed.

        The programme envisages Tiangong-1 (the first phase of the space station) and Shenzhou-7 being launched this year and executing the first unmanned rendevous. Thereafter, Shenzhou 1X and X will be launched to dock with Tiangong-1

        China will gradually build the space station and going by its earlier record one is certain that it will be ready by 2020.    

        Congrats China.

        In India, the government did not use the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight to announce its support for the country's human space mission programme.

        What a pity!

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