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Shopping for Shenzhou
by Dr Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 29, 2013

File image.

We probably have less than two weeks to go before China launches three astronauts on board the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft. China's space program has captured the attention of millions of people in China and around the world.

Large numbers of them are "hardcore" fans of spaceflight who follow the missions obsessively. This represents a large potential market for all sorts of products connected to China's space program. Generally, supply doesn't seem to match the potential market demand.

It's true that you can buy a fair amount of bling connected to China's space program. Model stores and online retailers hawk models of China's rockets and Shenzhou spacecraft. You can get some reasonably priced DIY kits, small replicas and more expensive metal models of Shenzhou, the Long March rockets and the Tiangong space laboratory.

Look closely and you will also find mission patches. There are collectable stamps, coins and medallions, some of them at prohibitive prices. But generally, there isn't as much swag for sale as you would probably expect.

This situation doesn't work for any of the stakeholders in the aerospace community. The fans don't get the cool things they would like to buy. The Chinese space program itself loses out another way of reaching out to the world. The potential manufacturers and vendors of these products also miss out on income.

In some ways, the relative lack of merchandising for Shenzhou mirrors the tight controls on any sort of public access to the program. China also loses some of the kudos it deserves for its firstrate achievements in spaceflight due to these restrictions. The program has never been as open as NASA's own human spaceflight efforts, and that situation seems likely to continue in the future.

Visit a large hobby store and you will find two sorts of spacecraft dominate the kits for sale. One is the venerable Saturn 5 rocket, the other is the Space Shuttle. Some of the kits for these American spacecraft are actually manufactured in China. But it's still hard to find a Shenzhou kit in most of these stores.

There is another spacecraft that is also sold prominently alongside these icons, and one that has also captured the attention of the world. No, it's not Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. It's the starship Enterprise!

There must be potential markets for Shenzhou-related clothes and other items. But it's hard to find them. Some canny manufacturer should start lobbying for a bigger slice of the action.

We can understand that the Shenzhou program is a celebrated organ of the state, and China's government probably doesn't want it being debased with silly products. Fair enough.

But tasteful products and mementoes could still be produced and sold. How about some Shenzhou crew flightsuits? Polo shirts and T-shirts with program logos should be easy to make. China could also produce video game-style simulations of missions, where users pilot the spacecraft. Space food is also another potentially marketable commodity.

The world needs to generate more support for spaceflight. A stronger image for Shenzhou would benefit not only China's space plans, but the entire human reach beyond our planet.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst reporting on the Chinese space program for since 2001. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.


Related Links
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
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Waiting for Shenzhou 10
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 22, 2013
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