Although military rocket and missile technology has been in development since the 1950s, the Chinese space programme did not take hold of the nation's collective imagination till the turn of the century.
Now, the Moon unmanned orbiters, landers and rovers, as well as humans in orbit, are paving the way for an ambitious programme which promises to see the Chinese on the Moon in person, and expand their exploration to Mars and beyond.
Extending its ballistic missile programme of the 1960s, China decided in 1967 to begin development of space technologies. Its first attempt at launching a satellite with the first of the Long March SLV (satellite launch vehicle) in August 1969 ended in failure. The Dong Fang Hong 1 satellite was successfully placed in orbit on 24 April 1970, atop a CZ-1 rocket.
A manned crew space programme (Project 714) was started in April 1971, but was cancelled due to political unrest during the Cultural Revolution.
A recoverable satellite was sent successfully into orbit in 1975, which led eventually to a commercial satellite programme by 1985.
The China Ministry of Aerospace Industry was founded in 1988, and the National Space Bureau in 1993.
On February 15, 1996, a Long March 3B rocket failed during launch and crashed, killing a reported 500 or more civilians.
On October 15, 2003, a crew of three was sent into orbit for 21 hours, making China the third country to have manned space flight capability.
China's space programme is now focused on the Moon. On October 24, 2007, the unmanned Chang'e 1 lunar orbiter was launched as part of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme. On December 14, 2013, Chang'e 3 set down a rover on the surface of the Moon.
Shenzhou 7 was a manned space mission with a spacewalk.
Tiangong-1 ("Heavenly Palace") is China's first space station. Launched on a Long March 2F/G rocket on 29 September 2011. Eventually a larger, modular station will be in orbit by 2023.
Shenzhou 9: 16 June 2012. Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut. This mission included a docking with the Tiangong-1 space station.
Shenzhou 10 was a further 3-person mission to dock with Tiangong-1, returning to Earth after 15 days on 26 June 2013. This mission carried Wang Yaping, the second Chinese female astronaut
Content © Andrew Bone. All rights reserved. Created : January 2, 2015 Last updated :April 11, 2016
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