Not-So-International Space Station

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    China is building its own space station. (Shujianyang/CC)
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    Chinese astronauts aboard the Tiangong space station live-stream lectures for students. (AP)
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    Visitors look at a model of China’s Tiangong-1 space station at the China Beijing International High-Tech Expo in Beijing, China. That was China’s first prototype space station, operational for two years. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)
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    Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang takes a spacewalk outside the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft after docking with the prototype space station Tiangong-1. (AP/Beijing Space Command and Control Center via Xinhua)
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If you look at the right time, you might see the International Space Station (ISS) shoot across the evening sky. It looks like a very bright star, and it is usually visible for four to seven minutes each time it passes over from horizon to horizon. That shiny dot carries a rotating crew of astronauts from 10 different countries. It stands as a symbol of international cooperation and peace.

Soon you might see a second such dot in orbit. China has decided to build its own space station.

Why build a brand-new station? Why not send Chinese astronauts to the ISS, as other nations do?

Simply put: China isn’t invited.

China sent its first astronaut to space in 2003. It was the third country to reach space, after the United States and Russia. The nation even put rovers on the Moon and Mars.

So the problem isn’t China’s technical prowess. China’s astronauts and scientists have accomplished incredible things. The problem is China’s government.

China’s space program belongs to the nation’s ruling Communist Party. Specifically, it belongs to the party’s military branch, the People’s Liberation Army. Despite its name, the People’s Liberation Army doesn’t set people free. Far from it.

The communist government and its army continue to abuse the Chinese people. They have committed genocide against Uyghurs (wee-gers), an ethnic minority. China has put Uyghurs in internment camps, forcing them to work and even torturing them.

The nations represented aboard the ISS differ greatly, but they share important values. Astronauts from the United States, Japan, and Europe may speak different languages, but all value human life. China’s government has made it clear: The Communist Party does not share that same respect for human life.

In 2011, the United States banned China from the ISS. The U.S. Congress cited national security concerns.

Instead of owning up to its wrongdoings, China chose to push forward alone. The Chinese Manned Space Agency launched Tiangong space station. The main living quarters arrived in low Earth orbit in April 2021. Soon, the agency will send a three-man crew to oversee the final stage of construction.

When people sin, they often find it easier to avoid others than to confess and repent. The same goes for nations. But without accountability, evil abounds.

In 2031, the ISS will officially go out of commission. Another international station is not planned, though private enterprises might send up their own. Unless that happens, the Tiangong space station will orbit Earth all alone.

Why? To work alongside one another, nations need shared values. When a nation rejects those values, it may end up alone.