Who will be next to get to the moon? Maybe China. The upstart Chinese space program could take a step closer this week by launching the Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace," into orbit.
"The Tiangong itself is a very small craft, roughly about, I believe, eight tons, and it's smaller than our SkyLab was.” Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. “And the main purpose of this is two things: one, to practice docking maneuvers, and two, to allow Chinese astronauts to have a little more extended time in a microgravity environment."
Tiangong could pave the way for a future Chinese space station and for exploration further afield. An unmanned spacecraft will reportedly dock with it later this year.
"If that works out well then we would expect to see, next year, missions Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10, both of which would be manned, doing docking with the Tiangong craft and probably moderate-duration stays."
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]