by Zhang Chuanshi
NEW YORK, June 29 (Xinhua) -- China's Shenzhou-9 space mission is fantastic and marks a huge step forward, a U.S. expert said just before the spacecraft successfully returned to Earth on Friday.
Michael Shara, curator of the Department of Physical Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), added that China has established itself as a "world player" in the space programs.
Sending humans into space and bringing them back safely are "already an enormous accomplishment, let alone the docking between spacecraft," said Shara, who has been studying astrophysics for over 40 years.
"Only really the U.S. and the Soviet Union ever managed to develop the technology to do that. So China is only the third country in all of human history to be able to do this, and really independently by themselves," he told Xinhua in an interview.
Talking about the docking mission of the Shenzhou-9 and the Tiangong-1 module, the member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) said being able to dock two spacecraft together is "a really huge step" after a manned space mission.
"Because you cannot have any chance of going onto the moon, or to the asteroid, unless you have succeeded in this rather difficult feat," Shara said.
He told Xinhua that he noticed that China had done the docking twice, automatically and manually, which impressed him a lot.
"China has clearly mastered this feat. Clearly this technology is solidly under their belts. I think it is terrific," he stressed.
"There is no one else who is doing anything like this today, even the European Union is not thinking about doing it independently. They are riding with the Americans, or riding with the Russians," said the expert, adding that China has established itself as a world player in the space programs.
"I think it will continue to advance rapidly," he added.
Three astronauts, including Liu Yang, the country's first female astronaut, safely returned to Earth on Friday morning after fulfilling China's first manned space docking.
Shara said he was highly impressed by the debut performance of the female Chinese astronaut.
"If you don't send women into space along with men, then you are wasting half of your talent pool. They've obviously chosen someone who is extremely competent," said the expert.
A special exhibition titled "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration" is being held at the AMNH in New York.
As a major power in the world's space programs, China's achievements in its space launches are one of the highlights at the exhibition which runs through Aug. 12.
As a chief curator of the show, Shara introduced some precious exhibits, including the armbands from the Shenzhou-5, Shenzhou-6 and Shenzhou-7 spacecraft.
"China has with an absolute focus decided that we are going to do this... It shows both the capability in chemistry, in physics, in mathematics, in computer science, in materials, in technology and engineering. All these things are absolutely world-class," he said.
China's space exploration also proves that "China is becoming a world power and is able to compete on the world stage," he said.
"The competition I believe is a very good thing, because there will be new ideas... And in the end, I think it will be more and more both competition and collaboration," he added.
Shara, also an adjunct professor at Columbia University, uses the Hubble Space Telescope to survey the densest cores of globular clusters to retrieve and characterize the predicted collision products.
Special Report: China launches Shenzhou-9 Spacecraft