Even as the US continues to debate how it will sustain a manned presence in space, China made yet another major announcement about its manned space program. In an announcement from the Chinese Ministry of Defense, it was declared that the newest class of Chinese astronauts included two women. Unlike their male counterparts, these are drawn from the ranks of China’s transport aircraft pilots (presumably because the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF] has no female fighter pilots).
The announcement serves as a reminder, not only that China’s interest in manned space is unabated, but that its manned space program is a function of the military, not civilian, authorities. This would suggest that the PLA retains its interest in space despite the announcement that China’s defense budget would be rising by “only” 7.5%, the first single-digit rise in over a decade.
It would also suggest that the announcement that China’s new spacelab (Tiangong-1) would be delayed by a year is more likely a refection of actual technical difficulties than budgetary concerns. During these delays, the United States should step up its efforts and use the additional time wisely.