China on Thursday successfully launched its first experimental laboratory module, unmanned, to pave the way for its first space station.
The Tiangong 1, or “Heavenly Palace”, was launched from the Gobi Desert. The device, weighing eight tons, 10.4 meters long and 3.35 diameter, will try in a few weeks to attach to another ship that China plans to launch the Shenzhou 8.
The launch, which could be seen through television, is the latest sign of China’s space prowess, and comes at a time that budget constraints and changing priorities suspend takeoffs made in America. United States will not try out a new rocket until 2017, and Russia has said that manned missions are no longer a priority for their space program, which has struggled with delays and technical problems.
China launched its second lunar module last year. In addition, the Asian country plans an unmanned landing and deployment of a lunar rover in 2012, besides the recovery of lunar soil and stone samples around 2017. Scientists have discussed the possibility of sending a man to the moon after 2020.