In a China Global Television Network video from 2003, taikonaut Yang Liwei leans back in his orbital capsule, the overstuffed stripes of his spacesuit legs filling the frame. His helmet shield is up, so the viewer can gaze into his eyes as he speaks: “Greetings to people around the world!” His eyes move leftward, out of the frame. “Greetings to my colleagues in space!” he says.
Liwei was China’s first astronaut, reaching orbit decades after US and Soviet space-farers. Not that it’s a competition. (Space is for peace and cooperation … right?) Nevertheless, when it comes to space exploration, China has mostly medaled bronze. Third country to achieve independent human spaceflight. Third to send women to space using homemade technology. Third to staff a crewed space station. Third to slide a probe in for a soft landing on the moon.
China has so far stuck to replicating the successes of other nations’ space programs. But the country has big ambitions. In 2016,