The simulation video showing the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-8 spacecraft's landing is seen on a monitor screen in the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 17, 2011. Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft is scheduled to touch down on Earth on Thursday evening. (Xinhua/Wang Yongzhuo)
by Xinhua writer Huang Xin
BEIJING, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- The successful return of the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 on Thursday brought China one step closer to its decades-long dream of a manned space station, sparking expectation of accelerated progress for the country's space industries.
Besides a sense of pride and passion, Chinese people have felt tangible changes, which were brought by China's space program, in various aspects, from the use of satellites for automotive navigation to the designs of diapers for babies.
"It's fair to say that aerospace technology is closely linked to the everyday life of the people," Wu Ping, spokeswoman for the manned space program, said earlier.
With more technological breakthroughs being made, the space program would further change people's lifestyles, raise living standards and boost economic development, as happened in history each time the human explored unknown territories, analysts said.
Starting from scratch, China's manned space program followed the principle of "get more done on less money." The country has spent about 35 billion yuan (5.4 billion U.S. dollars) on its manned space program started in 1992, the China Manned Space Engineering Office data showed.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has an annual budget of 17 to 18 billion U.S. dollars.
Each dollar that went to space programs could generate 7 to 12 dollars in economic returns, according to assessments made by U.S. and European research institutions.
The U.S. Apollo program was a good example. By producing more than 3,000 patents in the 1960s, the program fueled the growth of hi-tech industries in the United States. In addition, spacecraft technologies, such as artificial intelligence and remote sensing, brought prosperity to the agricultural and industrial sectors.
Despite a tight budget, China's space program has brought about developments in a variety of industries including new materials, new energy, information technology, biotechnology and precision manufacturing.
The economic return of China's space exploration exceeded 100 billion yuan in 2010, or just 3 percent of the global yearly income from the space industry, according to data released by the China Space Foundation.
After the successful launch of China's first experimental telecommunication satellite in 1984, telecommunication satellites have been widely used in television broadcasting, long-distance communication, as well as the finance and power sectors.
Since 1987, China-made satellites have carried more than 800 kinds of plant seeds into space for tests, adding a number of top-quality and high-yield farm products into Chinese cuisine thereafter.
Meanwhile, space technologies have helped research and development of about 80 percent of the country's 1,100 types of new materials. Nearly 2,000 space technologies are now used in telecommunication, textile, petroleum, transportation and other industries, changing the Chinese society profoundly.
Scientists believe the country's manned space program will promote scientific research and bolster relevant industries, just as previous major programs, such as the atomic and hydrogen bombs and satellites, had pushed forward research and development of Long March carrier rockets, nuclear power plants and micro-electronics industries.
Nevertheless, experts have called for more private capital and a long-range plan for the development of the country's space-related industries.
"The country needs a medium and long-term plan for space related industries as it would help combine short-term policies with the nation's long-range development blueprint," said Cao Chong, an expert with the China Technical Application Association for Global Positioning System.
The government could build a laboratory open to both researchers and enterprises in order to commercialize more of space technologies, he suggested.
Special Report: Shenzhou-8's docking mission with Tiangong-1