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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 9:29 EDT

China Making New Strides In Space Exploration

July 12, 2011

China is launching a rocket on Saturday that will carry a boxcar-sized module into orbit, which is the first step for a Chinese space station.

The country’s space station is set to open around 2020, which is the same year the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to close. 

China is launching its space laboratory module later this year, which will test docking techniques for the space station.

The Chinese space station will be smaller than the ISS, which is the size of a football field and jointly operated by the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

“China has lagged 20 to 40 years behind the U.S. in developing space programs and China has no intention of challenging U.S. dominance in space,” He Qisong, a professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told The Associated Press. “But it is a sign of the national spirit for China to develop a space program and therefore it is of great significance for China.”

China also plans to launch a lunar probe that will place a rover on the moon.  It hopes to launch the rover-releasing moon probe in about two years.

“The lunar probe is the starting point for deep space exploration,” Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s moon-exploring program, said in a 2010 interview posted on the national space agency’s website. “We first need to do a good job of exploring the moon and work out the rocket, transportation and detection technology that can then be used for a future exploration of Mars or Venus.”

The country is also moving towards putting a man on the moon sometime after 2020. 

As China moves ahead with its space exploration, NASA will be taking a step back as space shuttle Atlantis finishes up its final mission.

The 30-year space program will leave the U.S. dependent on Russia for hitching rides to the space station.  The U.S. government is relying on private companies to start taxiing astronauts to space and sending supplies to the ISS.