BEIJING - China on Thursday hurled its first Tiangong-2 lab into space, marking another step forward in the country's plans to establish a permanent station by the early 2020s.
China's rapid development in space exploration within the past decade has impressed the world. Martin Barstow, director of Leicester Institute of Space & Earth Observation at the University of Leicester, told Xinhua in a recent interview that China's developing space program is another major milestone towards establishing a permanent presence in space.
"The earlier success of the first space station (Tiangong-1) shows how the program is developing and the new space laboratory will continue to add to China's status as a major space power," the professor said.
Former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao, the first Chinese-American to be commander of the International Space Station, hailed Tiangong-2 as "another significant step for China's human spaceflight program."
"China is moving in a very deliberate and orderly fashion to advance their space capability," Chiao said. "I think the technology is good, and they are moving to get more operational experience through TG-2, before the beginning of space station construction."
Barstow also spoke highly of China's space capability, saying "China is already a key player in the international space industry," and Tiangong-2 will "enhance" its well-developed space capability.
Gao Yang, director of Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics (STAR) Lab, said manned spaceflight is of indicative significance in space technology, and China's rapid development in this area is well-known.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said in an article published on Thursday that "Beijing has made space exploration a national priority and is the third country, after the Soviet Union and the US, to put astronauts into space."
International cooperation needed
In different interviews Xinhua carried with space experts, all mentioned the need for international cooperation in space exploration. Space station programs have always been a cradle for countries to work together, Gao said.
Such collaboration has been vividly reflected in the Tiangong-2 mission, which carries, among a number of scientific experiments, an astrophysics detector that is the first space-science experiment built jointly by China with European countries.
POLAR, dedicated to establishing whether the photons from Gama ray bursts (GRBs) -- thought to be a particularly energetic type of stellar explosion -- are polarized, was built largely with Swiss funding, and with the collaboration of Swiss, China and Polish scientists and support from the European Space Agency (ESA), according to the British journal Nature.
POLAR project manager Nicolas Produit, who spoke to Nature, said US law bars NASA from doing joint projects with China's space agencies, but the Chinese Academy of Sciences is discussing a number of other collaborative space projects with the ESA.
Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program, said that it is encouraging that China intends to solicit international participation in its space station project.
"My hope is that the United States and China will, at an appropriate time in the future, find a way to cooperate in the peaceful exploration of space instead of competing to turn it into a battlefield, as they are now," he said.