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People watch the Long March-5B Y2 rocket carrying the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, blasting off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang, Hainan Province, on Thursday. Photo: Wang Longhua/VCG via Getty Images

Officials in China launched the core element of a new permanent space station into orbit on a Long March-5B Y2 rocket from Wenchang in Hainan Province, Thursday, per the BBC.

Why it matters: The launch from Wenchang Space Launch Center marks a significant step in the space program drive of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, seen as a rival to the U.S. in space.

  • China's government is excluded from the International Space Station program — the only space station in orbit.

Of note: The module, called Tianhe, or Harmony of the Heavens, is the first component launched.

  • Scientists in China had made use of two smaller test stations in orbit that hosted crew before moving on to this more complex design, Axios' Miriam Kramer notes.

What to watch: The goal is to have the Chinese Space Station operational by the end of next year, Space.com reports.

Flashback: The big picture on China's space station that fell out of the sky

Go deeper

China's homegrown techlash

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With the Chinese government accelerating moves against its own tech industry, China is — for now — prioritizing Communist Party control of the domestic economy over aggressive international competition.

Why it matters: China and the U.S. are both playing a long game, with tech as the playing field, companies as the pieces and domination of the global economy as the stakes.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine mandate after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks announced in a memo to employees Tuesday that it has dropped plans to implement a vaccine mandate for all U.S. workers, AP reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

1 hour ago - Health

Omicron hits American hospitals disproportionately hard

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

America is seeing more COVID hospitalizations than other wealthy countries during the Omicron surge, according to Our World in Data.

Why it matters: Vaccines keep the vast majority of COVID cases out of the hospital, but vaccination rates are also lower in the U.S. than these other countries.