CNN reports that Michael Griffin, NASA’s administrator, told an audience in Washington D.C. that:
“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are.”
“I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”
No, I expect that we wouldn’t like it one bit. Perhaps that’s just what is needed to re-ignite America’s passion for space exploration. A stinging defeat – and that’s what the Chinese landing on the moon while we do nothing would be – can have that effect on a nation.
More from Griffin:
“I think we will see, as we have seen with China’s introductory manned space flights so far, we will see again that nations look up to nations that appear to be at the top of the technical pyramid and they want to do deals with those nations. That’s one of the things that made us the world’s greatest economic power. So I think we’ll be reinstructed in that lesson in the coming years.”
The effects of losing round 2 of the space race cannot be defined in concrete terms. But Griffin is right when he says that there’s a certain panache that goes along with being the top dog in an area as visible and glamorous as space exploration. That leadership is ours to lose and that’s exactly what we seem willing to allow.
The U.S. is “more technically advanced. We certainly could be back on the moon faster than the Chinese, but we don’t have the political will and therefore the resources to do it,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, head of the Naval War College’s national security decision-making department.
It was just four years ago that China became only the third country in the world to launch its own rockets with people on board. Now it is aiming to build its own space station to orbit Earth, as well as a mission to the moon in 10 to 15 years.
Unlike the intense, cash-heavy days of the late 1950s and 1960s, budget constraints have slowed NASA’s previous rocket-fast pace. It will be 16 years from the time President Bush set the lunar goal in 2004 — if NASA even gets to the moon by 2020.
That’s twice as long as it took after President Kennedy issued the challenge in 1961; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fulfilled it in July 1969.
So what is America’s answer to the challenge of the Chinese? Raising NASA’s budget by a whopping 6% over President Bush’s status quo budget request.
“We’re thrilled!” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas… “This is a major step in the right direction to ensure that America stays at the forefront of being first in space exploration.”
No, Kay, it’s a baby step and one that should have been taken years ago.
According to Michael Griffin it’s too late to make any difference. But I don’t believe that. I believe what Johnson-Freese believes, that we have the technology and skills to stay ahead of them and reap the benefits of controlling space if only we can find the interest to do so. That such interest is lacking is an indictment of America’s priorities.
In the regard, Russia’s recent warning about the possibility of an arms race in space makes more sense than it did before Griffin’s remarks:
“We need to have strong rules about space, to avoid its militarization and if any country will place a weapon in space, then our response will be the same,” Space Forces Commander Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin told the newspaper Trud.
On reading this I automatically assumed the statement was directed toward the U.S. Perhaps that assumption was in error.