China is asking the public to help come up with a name and logo for its future space station in a sign of growing confidence in its ambitious program.
The appeal is the latest indication of how China's military-backed space program is emerging from its veil of secrecy as leaders seek to galvanize public support and maximize its educational and patriotism-inspiring aspects.
Eight years after China joined Russia and the United States as only the third country to put a human into orbit, the program has chalked up a string of successes, including launching a lunar probe and conducting its first ever space walk in 2008.
China expects to launch the space station's first module later this year, followed by a manned spacecraft to dock with it. Names are being sought for the station, due for completion before the end of the decade, along with its command module, two laboratory modules and supply ship. The program is also seeking new logos for the station and the manned space program.
"Considering the glorious achievements of the program and its majestic blueprint for the future, we feel the program should have an even brighter and more distinctive logo and a resonant and inspiring name," Wang Wenbao, head of the Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office, said in a statement posted Tuesday on the program's website.
There is a deadline of May 20 for naming the ship and July 25 for naming the station.
The space program has in the past looked to traditional culture for grandiose-sounding names. Ships in the manned space program have all been named Shenzhou, or "Sacred Vessel," while the lunar exploration program set to launch an unmanned lander next year has been christened Chang'e after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon.
Models of the planned space station had borne the provisional name Tiangong, "Celestial Palace" in English.