Chinese astronauts

February 11, 2014
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In 2011, Congress passed an act to bar NASA from having any bilateral contact with individuals of the Chinese space program because of national security fears.

"Every time it gets mentioned at all anywhere near Congress, it gets shut down immediately, " space analyst Miles O'Brien told CNN.

"There is tremendous skepticism there about China. It is viewed as a foe, it is viewed as a government that seeks to take our intellectual property - our national secrets and treasure."

In a white paper released Tuesday, China said that outer space had become an area of "strategic competition."

"The Chinese government has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space, it opposes space weaponization and an arms race in outer space. This position will not be changed, " Wang Jin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said.

Contact barred

But Nie discounted those fears.

"The United States and Russia started their space programs early. They are the pioneers, " he said.

He says foreign astronauts are welcome to visit China's own space station once it is launched.

The Chinese expect to finish their space station by 2022 - around the time International Space Station runs out of funding, potentially leaving China as the only country with a permanent presence in space.

China launched its manned space program in 1992. It initially borrowed and bought a great deal of Russian technology, primarily by replicating their Soyuz space craft - which they dubbed the Shenzhou.

But it has been steadily checking off the boxes in manned space flight. In 2003, it put its first man in space. In 2008, it completed its first space walk.

Lunar leader

With support from the highest echelons of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and exceptionally deep pockets, most analysts believe China's space program could become a world leader.

"I think in the end - tortoise versus hare style, they will probably win, " said O'Brien.

In October last year, China launched its most ambitious unmanned space mission to date: to orbit the moon and then return to Earth.

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Chinese astronauts enter space station
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Chinese Astronaut to Give Lecture From Space
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Chinese astronauts visit Namibia
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