To Mars and beyond

Nieuws | de redactie
4 april 2012 | 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 organizedsymposium which focused on travelling and living in space thisyear. Invited were a number of internationally renowned speakersamong 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 keyunit of China’s space program. Yang Hong himself designed “HeavenlyPalace-1”, a space module launched into the orbit last year. Thismission was part of China’s plan to install a complete spacestation which it expects to be operational by 2020.

Yang’s emerging space-flight nation has ambitious plans, notonly to expand its status as an economic superpower, but to gain afoothold in space as well. China therefore pursues i.a. newmissions to orbit and land on the Moon. In 2007, a Chinesesatellite orbited the moon for the first time. This year, a landingmission will be conducted with the goal to recover samples by2017.

So far this was a domain of the United States, the former SovietUnion and a few other countries. They maintain and conduct researchfor instance on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS,however, is set to retire by 2020, the very year that China aims tocomplete its much larger “Heavenly Palace” project, Yang Hong’smaster piece.

Sino-European cooperation

The chief designer of this great undertaking told ScienceGuidethat he graduated in 1984 from the Chinese University fortelecommunications, science and technology. Subsequently, he wastrained by CAST as an engineer. “My team and I came to the ‘Citizenof Space’ symposium to find out more about what is going on withthe European space industry. There is a lot of new and creativeconcepts being built right here.”

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

The Dutch space industry gathered last week with a group ofmembers of parliament to strengthen the awareness in Europe and theNetherlands in particular of both the validity of Yang Hong’sanalysis and the opportunities tis fact gives for a top-techcountry like the Netherlands. Read the article on this here (in Dutch). It was written by SanderBreur, the astrophysics student and former chairman of the nationalstudents union LSVb, who is a candidate himself to become anastronaut.

Moon, Mars only one step

While China is aiming for the moon in these next few years, Yanghimself has even more ambitious plans for the longer termperspectives of China and its space-efforts and research. “Myultimate dream is to let manned space flight benefit all humanity.Not just our Chinese people, but all citizens in the world. I thinkthat flying to Mars is just one step. In fact, we should think muchbeyond that.”

This also means investing in future talent, Yang argues. Justlike in the Netherlands and many major industrial countries theenthusiasm for space-related STEM studies is a major factor andworry in China, Hong reveals. “The Chinese government is veryconcerned that there is enough young talented people studyingsciences like engineering, mathematics etc. I think that the trendwe now see that many Chinese students decide to study in Europe isa great thing. Education in Europe is the best.”

Yang urges, however, that this should not result in a braindrain for China or a one-way traffic of knowledge, ideas andinnovations. “It is very important that there is an exchangebetween China and Europe. We also welcome European students andwant to see them study with us in China. Nevertheless, we are alsoconcerned that our Chinese citizens return to their home countryand research there.”


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