The first Chinese astronaut is up there right now. I hope for his safe return. Also probably onboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, which is modeled after the very successful Soviet Soyuz design, is a military payload. I’m much less concerned about that aspect of the mission performing well. Apparently the forward pod of the vehicle will remain in orbit for months as a seperate elint satellite. Two birds, one stone.
Our bird, meanwhile, is grounded. Or is it an albatross hanging from NASA’s neck? By next fall, according to the schedule which I do not have any faith in, we will be ready to launch the first of two space shuttle test missions. So basically, a year from now we’ll be proving our spacecraft, just like the Chinese are today. If we’re very, very lucky.
In related news, the next flight to the International Space Station, aboard a Soyuz, is scheduled for Saturday.
UPDATE: The “We’re #3!” headline refers to America’s space program, not China’s. China should be happy to be #3. But they’re effectively #2 for the time being, or #1 if you consider the fact that, unlike the Russians, they’re flying on their own cash.