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  • To Mars and beyond

    - Key people of the space industry gathered at TU Delft to discuss the future of manned space flight. ScienceGuide spoke to ‘China’s Werner von Braun’, Yang Hong. “Education in Europe is the best.” The Chief Designer Manned Spacecraft of CAST sees the Moon and Mars as no more than stepping stones.

    TU Delft hosted "Citizen of Space", an annually organized symposium which focused on travelling and living in space this year. Invited were a number of internationally renowned speakers among whom were Bernardo Patti, Head of the ISS Program (Esa, Europe) and Yang Hong, Chief Designer Manned Spacecraft (CAST, China).

    Ambitious Chinese space missions

    CAST (the Chinese Academy for Sciences and Technology) is a key unit of China's space program. Yang Hong himself designed "Heavenly Palace-1", a space module launched into the orbit last year. This mission was part of China's plan to install a complete space station which it expects to be operational by 2020.

    Yang's emerging space-flight nation has ambitious plans, not only to expand its status as an economic superpower, but to gain a foothold in space as well. China therefore pursues i.a. new missions to orbit and land on the Moon. In 2007, a Chinese satellite orbited the moon for the first time. This year, a landing mission will be conducted with the goal to recover samples by 2017.

    So far this was a domain of the United States, the former Soviet Union and a few other countries. They maintain and conduct research for instance on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS, however, is set to retire by 2020, the very year that China aims to complete its much larger "Heavenly Palace" project, Yang Hong's master piece.

    Sino-European cooperation

    The chief designer of this great undertaking told ScienceGuide that he graduated in 1984 from the Chinese University for telecommunications, science and technology. Subsequently, he was trained by CAST as an engineer. "My team and I came to the 'Citizen of Space' symposium to find out more about what is going on with the European space industry. There is a lot of new and creative concepts being built right here."

    "I believe that for the Chinese and European space industry there are great opportunities in working together," Yang states. "The technical university here in Delft is a great platform to get in touch with ambitious students and stakeholders."

    The Dutch space industry gathered last week with a group of members of parliament to strengthen the awareness in Europe and the Netherlands in particular of both the validity of Yang Hong's analysis and the opportunities tis fact gives for a top-tech country like the Netherlands. Read the article on this here (in Dutch). It was written by Sander Breur, the astrophysics student and former chairman of the national students union LSVb, who is a candidate himself to become an astronaut.

    Moon, Mars only one step

    While China is aiming for the moon in these next few years, Yang himself has even more ambitious plans for the longer term perspectives of China and its space-efforts and research. "My ultimate dream is to let manned space flight benefit all humanity. Not just our Chinese people, but all citizens in the world. I think that flying to Mars is just one step. In fact, we should think much beyond that."

    This also means investing in future talent, Yang argues. Just like in the Netherlands and many major industrial countries the enthusiasm for space-related STEM studies is a major factor and worry in China, Hong reveals. "The Chinese government is very concerned that there is enough young talented people studying sciences like engineering, mathematics etc. I think that the trend we now see that many Chinese students decide to study in Europe is a great thing. Education in Europe is the best."

    Yang urges, however, that this should not result in a brain drain for China or a one-way traffic of knowledge, ideas and innovations. "It is very important that there is an exchange between China and Europe. We also welcome European students and want to see them study with us in China. Nevertheless, we are also concerned that our Chinese citizens return to their home country and research there."