Analysts say if the mission is successful, it will increase US apprehension at China seeing itself as a proud global power When China sends its first astronauts into orbit next week the mission will aim to break American and Soviet records for the number of persons, length of time in orbit and complexity of operations on a maiden manned voyage. The space programme, like other large-scale undertakings such as the Three Gorges Dam project and the 2008 Olympics, will serve to boost national pride. Nationalism and economic growth are considered by most China experts to be the dual pillars fundamental for stability and effective communist rule. Yet few Americans see the value in such a risky and costly endeavour. Bert Silker, a veteran Washington commentator, said: 'If they want to go, then go, but why spend billions and risk lives just to do what we [the US] did 35 years ago?' But for students of Chinese domestic policy, going to space makes sense. Derek Mitchell, senior fellow for Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: 'For China, this fulfils its leaders' long-time aspiration and will have substantial corollary benefits for military and commercial technologies. 'Putting someone in space will serve as a further source of national pride and symbol of China's emergence as a major world player. It's also a way for the communist regime to use nationalism to legitimate its rule even as its founding ideology becomes less relevant in the lives of its citizens.' For China, media control remains a crucial tool for the perpetuation of party-centric nationalism. The state-run press skilfully intertwines imagery and syntax in an effort to fuse support for the Communist Party and the nation. Take, for example, the attempt by the country's satellite industry to secure public financing. In August, China Aerospace Science and Technology, a state-owned group expected to become the flagship of the country's satellite programme, listed the new 'China Satellite' stock. Average Chinese can now thump their chest with pride and claim they personally funded their nation's space exploration. But while a space programme may be a domestic success, China's global marketing strategy can go only so far to align concerns. 'I'm afraid that if China succeeds in its space mission, many Americans may react similarly to how they reacted when the USSR surprised us in the 1950s,' Mr Mitchell said. 'If a successful mission also stokes Chinese nationalism, it may accentuate US concerns about the future trajectory of China as a proud power and rival to the US.' Some Americans do see China's space quest as an opportunity. One Florida-based paper suggested: 'A Chinese mission would offer the Bush administration an opportunity it should seize in reaching out to Beijing and bringing the country into the orbit of international co-operative space ventures.' But most US officials, especially those in America's space agency, are more sceptical of Sino-US space co-operation. Debra Rahn, a Nasa spokeswoman, left no room for debate. 'China's programme has had no real impact on Nasa. Nasa has had only a few low-level earth science co-operative projects and has no direct contact with China regarding its space flight programme.' American strategists recognise the undeniable impact on the balance of power. The technological capacity to build an effective space programme would mean China has achieved the ability to manufacture, incorporate and operate spacecraft. As a result, fears of the militarisation of space are to be expected. A senior US government China analyst, who did not want to be named, explained why China's space programme would affect America's strategy. 'China's ability to launch a man into space will demonstrate a high degree of technical prowess and will confirm a sophisticated missile technology base, with applications for both strategic missiles and space exploration.' Fears extend beyond missile technology. Some experts consider China's highly-secretive manned programme part of a larger plan to compete in space with the Pentagon, which relies on satellites for communications and weapons targeting. There is also conjecture that China is developing anti-satellites designed to attack and destroy US spacecraft, and might be researching powerful ground-based lasers capable of blinding rival satellites. For Americans unacquainted with the mainland's domestic concerns the most perplexing aspect of China's space programme remains the country's motivation. China's leaders have already launched a barrage of soft-talk aimed at publicising the humanitarian benefits of their space odyssey and down-playing military applications. But such propaganda has done little to ease American apprehension.