China / Innovation

UN official, experts call for int'l cooperation in space program

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-06-17 08:48

JIUQUAN - China's space station will be an ideal international cooperation platform and the world is expecting China to escalate its space program, said a senior official of the United Nations after watching the launch of the Shenzhou IX spacecraft in the Gobi desert on Saturday.

Dr Mazlan Othman, director of the Vienna-headquartered United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), told Xinhua at Northwest China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center that the world is "waiting very anxiously for China's space station to be completed, which will give another opportunity for international cooperation."

She said she hopes to see "a great involvement of developing countries" through China's space program.

"The world is watching China," said the Malaysian astrophysicist.

China launched the Shenzhou IX spacecraft on Saturday to test the country's manual space docking technology. Aboard the craft are three astronauts, including China's first female astronaut.

"I'm excited as I'm also a female," said Othman, also deputy director-general of the United Nations Office at Vienna. She added that the United Nations promotes gender equality.

By 2020, China's space station could be the only space station, and China's role is even more important, she said, adding that the world is looking to China for international cooperation in the space sector.

Aboard the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft that was launched last November to conduct the country's first space docking, there was an experiment box containing 17 life science experiments jointly conducted by Chinese and German scientists. It was the first time that China had allowed foreign experiments operated in the Chinese space vessel.

Othman said her office aims to ensure such experiment is "widened and deepened," and countries together benefit from being in space.

China's space station in the future offers UN opportunities to conduct space experiments, she said, adding, "Medical research in space has benefit people on Earth, which can be improved further when we have the Chinese space station (around 2020)."

Countries, such as Russia, the United States, Japan and China should work together to give human kind all the benefit obtained from space, said Othman.

China is able to leapfrog because the technology has changed so much, such as computers, which is very helpful for China to escalate its space program, she said.

"We hope there is the first female astronaut landing on the Moon, maybe China can do this. We also hope there is woman as well as man landing on Mars," she said.

In an era of international cooperation, "the more countries embark on space activities, the better it is for the world, as no one country can do everything today," Othman said.

The UNOOSA promotes peaceful uses of outer space and ensures that developing countries have a great participation in space activities, she said, adding that China has been particular active with the office.

"China's space program gives an example that China can lead in certain areas," she said.

Othman's view was shared by Morris Jones, an Australian space analyst. "It is possible that a Chinese space station will host astronauts from other nations," he told Xinhua in an email.

The recent white paper "China's Space Activities in 2011" foresees technological cooperation with other countries in human spaceflight over the next five years.

"The future of space development must inherently be on a cooperative basis," said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on China's space program at the US Naval War College on Rhode Island.

"Already we find that in order to sustain the usability of the space environment against threats such as space debris, countries must work together," said Johnson-Freese.

"I am hopeful that a Space Code of Conduct - currently under discussion - will be adopted by all members of the spacefaring nations, indicating their desire to work together generally, toward being able to work together in areas like human spaceflight specifically," she said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of China's manned space program, which was officially initiated on Sept 21, 1992. The launch of the Shenzhou IX spacecraft marks the program's 10th launch and the country's fourth manned spaceflight.

"China deserves hearty congratulations for their twenty years of dedicated, and successful efforts, in human spaceflight," said Johnson-Freese.

"China's approach has been very different than that undertaken during the Apollo years. Whereas the US did many launches over a short period of time toward rapidly achieving its goal of safely sending a man to the Moon and returning him, China launches less frequently, but takes bigger steps with each launch, and is clearly determined to go into space at its own pace, but on a sustained basis," she said.

"China's space strategy is to be as autonomous as possible. They do not depend on other countries for rocket launches, spacecraft, or other infrastructure, which means that China can pursue its own goals in space at its own pace, and it is also not affected by problems with the space programs of other nations," said Morris Jones, the analyst based in Sydney.

"The Chinese program may lag behind the US but it is taking incremental steps and is building on each one. Furthermore, now that the US is dependent on Russia for transporting its astronauts to the International Space Station, China is being perceived increasingly as a major space power," said Dr Erik Seedhouse, a Canadian space analyst.

"While China's human spaceflight accomplishments to date put it roughly where the US and the Soviet Union were in the mid-1960s, China has consistently stuck to a development timeline for its program and met the realistic goals set out in its five-year plans. Their program has been a steady but un-rushed effort to develop technologies and extend its capacities," said Seedhouse.

The space analyst said China's comprehensive, moderately-paced program is more than capable of landing its astronauts on the Moon "within the next 10 years."

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