Will China Join the Space Race to the Moon?
Since private space travel became accessible to the general public in 1960, there has been plenty of space race to space. Many nations have sent people into orbit, but very few of them have actually been to space and back. Some of these nations, like Russia and America, have made space exploration a priority, while most others are just interested in it for tourism purposes. China is an interesting case study in this case. In recent years they have been very busy putting together an impressive array of scientific satellites and space vehicles, but have not even taken off one piece of hardware in orbit.
For these reasons, it can be said that for now, we are still running in the race to space. And although many commercial entities, like Virgin Galactic and Rocket India, have shown great progress in this direction, they are just getting off the ground, while China and Russia remain stuck in the lunar race. With China’s recent goal to put a lunar probe on the moon this year, they are clearly onto something.
Now, China’s ambitions do go beyond space, to the moon, and to the cosmos. They have ambitions for a new space station, and plans for a piloted space capsule and eventually a manned mission to Mars. All this is in addition to their burgeoning satellite and space manufacturing industries, both of which have the potential to reduce costs and improve lives. Clearly, the Chinese are moving fast in the race to space.
This may be prudent. The Chinese space program has had some problems recently, and it appears that their recent test flight failure was not because of design deficiencies, but rather because of a problem with the solid-fueled rocket motors. Many aerospace experts believe this to be only the first of many failures to come. If this trend continues, and the Chinese can successfully launch a unmanned probe to the moon, or send someone to Mars, they will greatly increase their global presence, and thus their global trade.
I was actually in China the other day, and while visiting the CCTV (Chinese CCTV) building, I happened to ask a question to one of the reporters. I asked, referring to the long-planned launch of a unmanned probe to the moon, “Do you think China will be able to accomplish this mission?” The reporter said, “I really cannot predict anything, it’s going to be an individual mission. It may well be, they are very good at working with their rocket engines.”
Now then, I asked the reporter if he understood that there is competition from the United States, and that some folks in the military believe that they are trying to steer China away from becoming too much of a competitor with the US? He said he didn’t know that; but added that many of the Chinese leaders are very wealthy, and so they would not feel uncomfortable sending a millionaire into space. Indeed they might not want to, if they couldn’t do it. And we know sometimes it costs a bundle to get someone to orbit the earth, even if they succeed.
Indeed, if we consider all of this history, and the numerous space programs that China has already undertaken (and paid for), as well as future plans such as their own manned spaceflights to the moon and perhaps even to Mars, as China moves closer to being a nuclear power, one could argue that it makes sense to spend these huge amounts of resources on developing space tourism if it will help China win the space race. If China is going to send astronauts to the moon, why not use that money to develop systems to bring people back from space? After all, we now know that it makes sense to use resources we have, to develop better means of using those resources, and to use the stars for power. Surely the US doesn’t really think that way, and they are losing the space race to China right now, so they ought to think the same way.
Indeed, if China is successful in this space race, and develops technologies that help Chinese astronauts go to space and bring them back alive, and Chinese cosmonauts bring news of success back to China, then perhaps China will feel obligated to develop better systems for using those resources, thus making them a richer and more powerful nation in the process. It makes sense to develop space tourism, or develop a better means of using resources that the Chinese have captured from the sun, rather than just stealing it. It also would make sense for China to join the international community in sending people into space, as NASA has been doing for years. Indeed, I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.