As the U.S. winds down its space shuttle program, and with the International Space Station set to shut down in 2020, eyes are turning to China and its ambitious yet mysterious plans for the final frontier.
There is perhaps nowhere the country wants to challenge the world more than high above it. The first spacewalk by "taikonauts," as astronauts are known in China, marked a moment of national glory in 2008. And the country has big plans for the future: a lunar rover in 2013, a moonwalk sometime after 2020, and the first building block for a space station, to be completed next decade, will be launched later this year.
The country insists its aims are peaceful.
"We want to focus on building an industry of aerospace," says Han Liyan, professor at Beijing Aerospace University, "which aims to be directed mainly at civilian technology."
But the space program is run by China's secretive military. According to University of Washington professor Saadia Pekkanen, that complicates figuring out China's capabilities, intentions, and how much of a rival it will be to the U.S.
"Because we know not enough about what is happening in China, some estimates of Chinese capabilities may in fact be overblown," Pekkanen told CTV News. "We actually don't know."
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