Even as Nasa officials were repeatedly proclaiming publicly post Atlantis launch that US leadership in space globally will remain unchallenged, internally, however, they were expressing apprehensions about its future, mainly because of the budget cuts by the Obama adminstration. None other Neil Armstrong himself has gone on record as saying that the US is losing its edge in the field of space exploration.
As Nasa was confidently declaring publicly about its future goals, China took advantage of this situation and reiterated its ambitious future space plans recently. With the 16-member International Space Station (ISS) set to wind up in 2020--the very year China plans to send its first man to the moon--China this year will launch a rocket carrying a boxcar sized module which will be the first segment of a Chinese space station. This new space station is expected to become operational in 2020. So 2020 promises to be an exciting year in the field of space techology. It will mart the end of one space station and the start of another one.
The space station, unlike the existing one which can accommodate seven crew members, will have place for three. China seems seems hell bent to beat the US in the space race.
While the US keeps announcing its future missions,China plans to launch a lunar probe having a rover in 2013. And, seven years later around 2020 or so it has set itself a goal of putting a man on the moon.In this scenario unfolding in China the US is a worried nation.
With a degree of uncertainty about the future of US space programmes, American space experts are understandbly a worried lot----they are apprehensive that their country will be overtaken by China in the human spaceflight programme.
In fact Scott Pace, an associate Nasa adminstrator, during the George Bush adminstration, has been quoted as saying that a decline in space leadership will be seen as symbolic of a relative decline in US power and influence. ``Space leadership is highly symbolic of national capabilities and international influence,'' he was quoted as saying.
That is not all. China has also not ruled out the possibility of launching a manned mission to Mars. Infact in the Mars500 programme---a simulated landing on Mars---which is taking place in a facility near Moscow, it is a Chinese candidate who is supposed to be performing most satisfactorily.
So, China is really heading towards the stars.