The International Space Station (ISS) is just one space-shuttle flight away from completion, but the construction boom in low-Earth orbit looks set to continue for at least another decade. Last week, China offered the most revealing glimpse yet of its plans to deploy its own station by 2020. The project seems to be overcoming delays and internal resistance and is emerging as a key part of the nation's fledgling human space-flight programme. At a press briefing in Beijing, officials with the China Manned Space Engineering Office even announced a contest to name the station, a public-relations gesture more characteristic of space programmes in the United States, Europe and Japan.
China first said it would build a space station in 1992. But the need for a manned outpost "has been continually contested by Chinese space professionals who, like their counterparts in the United States, question the scientific utility and expense of human space flight", says Gregory Kulacki, China project...
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