China's Shenzhou-8 Lifts Off on Historic Mission
In late September, China successfully placed Tiangong-1 space station into orbit, paving the way for future missions. The first of those missions began today with the launch of Shenzhou-8, an unmanned mission which will dock with the Tiangong station after two days of travel time. This will be the first docking maneuver for China, and if successful, will place it among only three countries that have carried out such a mission.
While these accomplishments are modest compared to Russia and the United States — which began long term space habitation and docking activities in the 1960s — it is a major step for China. Moreover, it demonstrates to the world that China is taking its space program seriously, and could be something of an embarassment for the U.S. which currently has no domestic manned spaceflight capability.
Should Shenzhou-8 perform as expected, the next step will be for manned missions to the station. We’ll have to wait until 2012 to see how those go.