By Xinhua writers Li Huizi, Jia Yong and Li Xuanliang
BEIJING, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Chinese astronauts entered the country's orbiting space laboratory Tiangong-1 for the first time on Monday, and they will live and work there for about 10 days, paving the way for the construction of a space station around 2020.
China has become the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to acquire the skills necessary for extravehicular activities and space docking, and, by acquiring these skills, the nation has gained confidence in its high-tech development capabilities.
Acquiring space docking skills allows China to supply manpower and material to an orbiting module, marking a significant step for China's manned space program that celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
More importantly, China's ancient dream of "Flying Apsaras," as enshrined in the frescoes of the Dunhuang Caves, has been realized.
The leapfrog development of China's manned space program can be attributed to the country's initiative of reform and opening-up, according to Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of the space program.
The progress of the program has greatly benefited the lives of ordinary people. It is estimated that an investment of 1 yuan (0.157 U.S. dollar) into the space program will yield a return of 7 to 12 yuan. The development of the program has also sped up the research of new materials.
However, China is undoubtedly a latecomer in space development compared with the U.S. and Russia.
"The Chinese program may lag behind the U.S., but it is taking incremental steps and building upon each one. Furthermore, now that the U.S. 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 U.S. 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."
The progress of the country's manned space program reflects a path of self-reliance and innovation, offering an example for development with Chinese characteristics.
Today's China is no longer a mere "world's manufacturer" of shoes, stockings and cigarette lighters, and the nation has gained confidence in its development of space technology.
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