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Long march skyward: Phil Hamilton looks at websites related to China's space adventures

China’s first man into space shows that the country is an emerging power to be reckoned with. Despite continued general backwardness and a space programme run at a fraction of the European Space Agency’s budget, the flight of Shenzhou 5 is an impressive feat of engineering all the more for that. But how has this momentous event been relayed by official Chinese websites?

The China View English language site for China’s Xinhua news agency is a good place to begin (http://xinhuanet.com/english/space/index.htm). A series of special reports on China’s first manned space flight is split into three sections. ‘Latest developments’ is self-explanatory, with Shenzhou stories covered from every conceivable angle. These include a biography of taikonaut Yang Liwei, speculation about China’s future space plans, and even an item where he confesses that he could not see China’s Great Wall from the capsule. ‘China’s space explorations’ offers timelines, technical backgrounds, and short pieces on cooperation with other space agencies. ‘International reactions’ concentrate on the global response to China’s Long March skyward. These items report comments by world leaders and look at international media coverage. For example, the page on Asia focuses on the press response from a selection of countries (of course the Taiwanese media are conspicuously absent). The website itself is brightened by the inclusion of photos snapped from the capsule, celebrations and commemorative stamps. The site is rounded off with links to other Chinese space sites.

The first of these, the China National Space Administration (http://cnsa.gov.cn/main_e.asp), offers more specialised information. Being an agency concerned with intergovernmental cooperation and policy implementation, the site is heavily slanted in this direction with conference papers, correspondence with Brazil, outlines of Sino-Russian cooperation and much else besides. Materials from CNSA’s Aerospace China can be read online, and you can even apply to join a space-training course (sadly these are for desk posts only - budding taikonauts will have to look elsewhere).

The website of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (http://calt.com.cn/new/english) is pretty sparse. The only available features are downloadable (pdf) technical manuals for China’s five launchers. Only those interested and well versed in space technology need apply.

Next along is the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, or Casic (http://casic.com.cn/docc-e/jie-shao/jianjie.asp). The Chinese equivalent of BAE Systems, it is clear that Casic has it organisational fingers in many technological pies (the ‘Product show’ [sic] pages illustrate just how many). Space technologies are showcased under ‘Civil aerospace products’. Unfortunately there is nothing pertaining to Shenzhou, though at this stage many areas of the English language site are under construction.

Finally, the links conclude with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (http://spacechina.com/espace/#). Compared with the Casic site, the focus here is very much on space exploration. Logging on, you first see a catalogue of launches dating back a year or so, though presented in the most neutral of tones. Like its Casic counterpart, there remain significant sections of the site that have yet to be built.

Linking from here is the Chinese Academy of Space Technology - Cast (http://cast.cn/en). In contrast to the specialist nature of the others, the comprehensive Cast site hosts potted histories, technician biographies, product information and research areas (among other things). You can also vote your opinion of the site, and a neat scrolling selection of space agency links adds a nice finishing touch. It is a pity that the hits count suggests the site is seldom visited, as it is easily the best of the crop.

One of the biggest surprises I encountered was the coverage China’s People’s Daily has given the launch. I was expecting it to be overflowing with self-congratulation, but the science pages (http://fpeng.peopledaily.com.cn/Sci-Edu.html) are bereft of commentary, preferring to dwell on satellite technologies and education issues.

Lastly, two discussion lists are worthy of mention for their coverage of space issues. The Socialist Asia forum (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socialist_asia) is concerned with general news from China, Vietnam, Laos and the DPRK (North Korea). The other, Red Borg (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/red_borg), is a socialist-inspired space-tech and science fiction forum. List members have been looking forward to Shenzhou’s flight for some time, and its news was greeted with much enthusiasm. At the moment Red Borg has barely scratched the surface of its potential, but that is nothing an influx of new members could not fix.