That Cold War Space Race? Some think it’s back on! August 9, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, International Politics, Science.
Interesting piece here in Foreign Policy magazine about how China is moving steadily towards a point where it will be ahead of the US in terms of space activity. In a sense the PRC is already ahead given that they have an usable system to launch humans into space whereas at the present moment the US is dependent upon the Russians and will be until such time as a successor to the Shuttle emerges.
In a way the major problem for the US is that it is trying to return to 1960s and 1970 approaches whereas Chine is moving through those approaches without the diversion of a space shuttle or all that that entailed.
In an accompanying article John Hickman makes two salient points. Firstly that:
The Chinese have not only matched many of the achievements of the US and Russians in space – and in far less time than it took their predecessors to reach the same milestones – they did so while avoiding their biggest mistakes.
The Chinese space program enjoys some important advantages over its U.S. rival. As the recent surge in missions attest, the Chines space program likely enjoys generous and stable government funding.
The first point can be expanded upon, in fairness – and this in no way detracts from Chinese achievement in the area – the PRC is using Soviet technology as its basis, but the great advantage of that is that that technology is tried and tested. In ten years they’ve moved from getting humans into orbit to having small scale but functional space stations, something that took almost two decades for the US and Soviets.
And he makes a further interesting point that:
…the programme has the support of a unified Chinese leadership; President Xi Jinping won’t be shutting down the Shenzhou missions to diminish the legacy of his predecessors, as President Richard Nixon did by ending manned lunar exploration.
One aspect of this is the rather cosmetic privatisation of US spaceflight, where launch capacity is being farmed out to the private sector – the federal state still having to pay, naturally (and to see how cosmetic this is consider the involvement of the aerospace industry in the past). The inability of the private sector to step up rapidly is, one might hope, educative. That and a lack of political will to fund it has hobbled the US return to human spaceflight.
But that political will is central. Obviously the PRC sees long term strategic interest in pursuing these programmes, and it’s not the only one. India has a small but efficient programme in train. What will be telling is whether these developments concentrate minds in Washington. It is hard to see how they could not, but there’s a strange mood abroad these days. We live in a time when anti-statism in its rightward form is dominant. Could it really be that that sentiment might come into direct conflict with US strategic interests?