As of today, with Russian Soyuz paunches suspended, China is the only country currently capable of launching an astronaut into orbit. The fact their political leaders have consistently made space exploration a priority has much to do with the continued growth of their space program.
The success of the Chinese space program has many people wondering why they still have not been invited to participate in the International Space Station, which currently has 13 partners, including the U.S., Russia, Japan and several European nations. In the face of this lack of invitation China has continued to develop its own program which has led it to the creation of its space launch vehicle and now, its own space station.
The Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace," will blast off from a site in the Gobi Desert around Sept. 27-30, adding a high-tech sheen to China's National Day celebrations on Oct. 1, the Xinhua news agency said.
The small, unmanned "space lab" and the Long March rocket that will heave it skyward have been readied on a pad at Jiuquan in northwest Gansu province, Xinhua said, citing an unnamed representative for the country's space program.
It will be the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.
The big test comes weeks after its launch, when the eight-ton craft attempts to join up with an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft that China plans to launch.
"The main task of the Tiangong 1 flight is to experiment in rendezvous and docking between spacecraft," said the Chinese representative, who added that this would "accumulate experience for developing a space station."
Click here to read more about the Chinese space station.