“It was as if all spring festivals, new years, and Christmases had come at once,” a breathless Chinese commentator wrote in the China Daily. An enraptured Chinese public watched last September as a 42-year-old astronaut—“taikonaut” in Chinese parlance—floated for about 15 minutes outside the Shenzhou VII capsule traveling 213 miles above Earth. That pioneering space walk, part of the country’s third human mission into orbit, thrust China’s space ambitions onto the world stage.
As reported in Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po newspaper, Yang Liwei, the first taikonaut and now deputy director of China’s astronaut training center, says that about 14 people will be recruited soon to train for life aboard a Chinese space station. Other Chinese space officials predict that the station will be launched by 2020.
China is not a partner in the International Space Station now under construction by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. But NASA officials recently visited Beijing for low-level talks about cooperation, continuing a dialogue begun two years ago.