China has rapidly emerged as a major player in the new space race. China’s first astronaut launched into space only nine years ago, but since then, the country’s space program has progressed rapidly.
In late 2011, the country launched its own space station—the Tiangong-1. And in June 2012, the manned Shenzhou 9 mission successfully docked with this space station. With plans for manned missions to the Moon and to Mars, the country’s space exploration plans are accelerating at an incredible pace.
China’s vice president, Xi Jinping, recently spoke at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Beijing. According to China Daily, he “made it clear China was determined to be not only a world leader but a pioneer in intergalactic affairs too.” Professor Sun Kwok, the University of Hong Kong’s dean of science, believes that the vice president’s words, and his presence at the assembly, indicate that space exploration is a national priority.
At the assembly, Kwok was elected vice-president of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) bioastronomy Commission 51 for the next three years. That’s right. Commission 51. Is anyone else suspecting an intentional Area 51 allusion here? This commission is a dedicated body of scientists searching for extraterrestrial life. Here is a general overview of the IAU’s Commission 51:
Bioastronomy: Search for Extraterrestrial Life was established as Commission 51 of the IAU in 1982. The objectives of the commission include: The search for planets around other stars; The search for radio transmissions, intentional or unintentional, of extraterrestrial origin; The search for biologically relevant interstellar molecules and the study of their formation processes; Detection methods for potential spectroscopic evidence of biological activity; The coordination of efforts in all these areas at the international level and the establishment of collaborative programs with other international scientific societies with related interests.
Kwok believes that evidence of extraterrestrial life will be discovered within the next fifty years, but perhaps as soon as twenty years. And although he expects to discover microbial life, he firmly believes that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, and also believes that “a lot of scientists also hold the opinion that there is intelligent life out there.”