As space exploration becomes an increasingly-diminished priority in the United States, the Chinese are moving in quite the opposite direction, aggressively seeking to occupy the vacuum left by America’s virtual abandonment of outer space...and much of the activity is centered on a remote desert outpost in northwest China, approaching the Mongolian border.
It is at that place where China has created, as Bloomberg puts it, “a gateway to the new final frontier:” Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Jiuquan has seen six manned spaceflights depart from the facility, and it is believed that manned trips to both the moon and Mars are presently under discussion in China.
The Launch Center is also the location from which China’s most-important satellites are put into space. A dream of Mao’s, it was first built in 1958. Since then, according to Bloomberg, it has grown in area to twice the size of Los Angeles, and, as of 2011, per a state-run newspaper, it had roughly 35,000 people living in its residential area.
The nature and location of the facility speak to China’s dedication to pursuing a sustained, even dominant, presence in space. They show no signs of letting up, as last month’s launch of the Shenzhou 11 mission to China’s orbiting lab will attest.
It is said that Mao always wanted to establish China as a genuine competitor to the then-Soviet Union and United States in the realm of space exploration.
Is China there yet? While that is certainly debatable, one thing is not: the country is evidencing a determination that has not been a part of the U.S. space agenda for decades now, and so much of it is being energized by a busy, energetic launch site in what many see as the middle of nowhere.
Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large