Establishing a Crewed Program

Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut in space, salutes before giving a speech during a meeting marking the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army.

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It's one thing to set in motion a space program aimed at providing Earth observations, communications, scientific data or even space exploration; all of that can be accomplished with unmanned craft such as orbital satellites or deep-space probes. China, however, has also focused on developing Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts (from taikong, the Chinese word for space, and the Greek suffix -naut, for sailor) [source: Cong].

Sending a human into the hostile environs beyond Earth's protective envelope is a tall order, requiring a unique series of advanced technologies, including extended life support, but China has risen to the challenge. In 2003, its space program successfully launched its first taikonaut, Yang Liwei; five years later, a Chinese astronaut conducted the country's first spacewalk.

The nation's long-term goal, as we'll discuss later, is to put taikonauts on the moon. How do you get to the moon? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice. Oh, and rockets -- lots of them. Read on to see how much prep China has put in so far.