China successfully launched its Shenzhou VII spacecraft into orbit last night, with three Chinese astronauts ready to carry out the country's third manned space mission.
During the scheduled three-day mission in space, China ground officials expect the taikonauts to carry out the ambitious space program's first space walk. Furthermore, a different astronaut will wear a reported $4.4 million space suit that was designed and manufactured in China with no help from foreigners.
The taikonauts will share a 14-cubic-meter workspace while in space, which will be the same amount of cramped space two taikonauts shared during the Shenzhou 6 space mission.
The Chinese government is investing billions of dollars into a space program that has developed quickly and has had three manned launches in the past five years. China plans to create its own space station by 2020, and hopes to put a man on the moon shortly thereafter.
The military-operated space program last year launched a lunar probe, which was the first step of a three-part operation for China to head to the moon. NASA also has plans to return to the moon by 2020, although uncertainty over the development of Orion has made observers question if the United States will be able to make it back to the moon in 12 years.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin previously admitted China is more likely to return to the moon before anyone else.
The United States and Russia remain the only two nations to conduct spacewalks, and China joining the list will be historic, government officials said in a prepared statement.
quote: Not unless the U.S. flag is all red, and the U.S. rocket has Chinese letters on the side.