With the recent successful launch of China’s Shenzhou 11, taking two Chinese astronauts for a 30-day stay at the Tiangong-2 space station, the focus has been renewed on that country’s slow but steady space program. Eric Baculinao, writing for NBC News, suggests that #china is poised to challenge American leadership in space, just as the Soviets did in the 1960s. China has lots of ambition, including a space station, manned lunar expeditions, and even a space telescope with greater capabilities than the Hubble space telescope.
When one raises the issue of a space race between the United States and China, more often than not the suggestion elicits a lot of eye rolling. China, while having achieved some impressive space feats, have so far only replicated missions that the United States and the Soviet Union accomplished 50 years ago.
However, the situation may be a case of the tortoise vs. the hare, of a slow, steady advance by one country against another country that, while capable of performing great strides, seems to be mired in uncertainty and a lack of direction and funding. Officially, the United States is headed on the Journey to Mars, but the program will at best see astronaut boots on the Martian ground in 20 years. China is embarked on the more doable in the short run and potentially far more beneficial exploration of the moon. Mars remains the shiny object that is distracting the United States from the true challenge that is before it in space.
Ironically, the solution to China’ space challenger in 2016 is the same as the one to the Soviet one mounted in 1961. A number of studies suggest that a lunar program, conducted with international and commercial partners, could meet with success in the early part of the 2020s. American and allied astronauts could establish a lunar base at the moon’s south pole and would be doing science and starting the economic development of Earth’s nearest neighbor could be well under way by the time the Chinese arrive. American and allied supremacy in space will then have been assured. #JourneytoMars #ReturntotheMoon