The first American astronauts to visit China have drawn attention to the fledgling efforts of China's space program.
Shuttle veterans Cols. Jack Lousma and Gordon Fullerton have spent the past week in Peking, touring the sights and exchanging views with China's space experts.
Col. Lousma said he and his colleague were shown a 30-minute film showing a Chinese spacecraft carrying a dog in suborbital flight, then landing by parachute on rough terrain. He was told China had sent up and recovered dogs, rats, and fruit flies.
The two Americans were peppered with questions about weightlessness and about the practical details of their flight, including their space suits. According to Col. Lousma, properly speaking China does not have astronauts as yet. Rather they have been doing research with men in space suits, in high altitude chambers , centrifuges, and so forth.
China has so far lofted 12 satellites since 1970, Col. Lousma said. At present the Chinese have a two-stage rocket that can put a 4,000-pound payload into a 200-mile orbit. This is roughly comparable to the United States Titan I rocket of the mid-1960s. The astronauts were also told that the Chinese are working on a three-stage rocket that will put a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit (about 22,500 miles up) in 1983 or 1984.
China startled the world in September 1981 when it put up three satellites simultaneously. This would indicate that the Chinese have been successful in developing a capability to launch multi-warhead missiles.
Representatives of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) visited China in 1979 and Chinese scientists have visited the US to learn of space-related research. Although there is no formal exchange agreement between NASA and its Chinese counterpart, Col. Lousma said the Chinese wanted to expand cooperation in all areas of high technology. Military questions did not come up during the visit, Col. Lousma said. The Chinese told him their main interest in space research was in meteorological and earth science data and in studies of the upper atmosphere.