China And Space

This piece is monumental in its ignorance of human spaceflight in the U.S.:

China can put people in space, as can Russia, but the United States cannot. In fact, the landing on the moon should be seen as another step toward China’s goal of landing humans on the Moon. The Colombia disaster made NASA risk-averse, slowing the development of manned programs to a crawl. The previous administration’s decision to rely on commercial space programs for human flight has not yet born fruit, and these efforts so far have repeated what U.S. space programs did in the 1950s. The promised flight to Mars was always a fantasy. Right now, China has the most promising human spaceflight program.

The United States can put people in space any time it wants; it just doesn’t want to. Note that the words “Commercial Crew” don’t appear in the article, though DM-1 is scheduled in the next few weeks, maybe even this month. Barring a major problem, we should have two separate domestic vehicles capable of sending humans into space this year. And it completely ignores both SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s plans for much larger reusable systems. The notion that China is ahead of us in any aspect of spaceflight is nonsensical.

[Update a few minutes later]

Speaking of China, Leonard David has the latest on its farside landing.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Meanwhile, Mark Whittington continues to fear the yellow menace:

The landing is a remarkable achievement. It illustrates Beijing’s burning ambition to become the supreme superpower on Earth, in part by conquering space. India and a private group in Israel are planning their own moon landings early in 2019. NASA is due to sponsor commercial lunar landings as part of President Trump’s return to the moon initiative in the next year or so.

The prize of the new space race is the moon’s natural resources and control of the high frontier for all practical purposes.

The moon is a big place. No one nation is going to dominate it. And it’s a long way from a robotic lander, regardless of which side it lands on, to a lunar base.

Mark continues to operate under the delusion that we can (or should) do Apollo again. Lunar resources will be developed privately, if at all. It certainly won’t happen by a government that has elections every two years.

[Update a while later]

No, James Andrew Lewis, America is about to take back human spaceflight. And in fact it is China that is “repeating what U.S. space programs did in the sixties.”

[Saturday-afternoon update]

Sigh. Here’s another one:

The development is especially shocking because China’s space program seems to have come out of nowhere. And in some sense it has. Whereas NASA was formed in 1958, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was founded in 1993.

During the past quarter-century, however, CNSA has made up for lost time – illustrating in classic, tortoise-versus-hare fashion that slow and steady wins the race. Today, despite its belated start, CNSA boasts a robust astronaut (taikonaut) program, an operational space station (Tiangong-2), and a whopping thirty-eight rocket launches in 2018 – more than any other country.

Even though it’s generally quite secretive, CNSA is very open about its intention to land taikonauts on the moon by the late 2020s or early 2030s, with an eye to colonizing the moon shortly thereafter. The United States and Russia have made similar declarations. But all things considered – especially now, in the wake of Chang’e 4’s spectacular success – China must be considered the frontrunner.

As Jeff Foust noted on Twitter, it’s only “shocking” and “seems to have come out of nowhere,’ if you weren’t paying attention. And no, China should not be considered the “frontrunner.” Landing a rover on the moon, even on the farside, is neither a necessary or sufficient condition to land human there.

14 thoughts on “China And Space”

  1. “Mark continues to operate under the delusion that we can (or should) do Apollo again.”
    I am following what is saying, but basically I think we should Apollo again, but explore lunar poles.
    So lots of robotic mission and about dozen or less manned missions, and no lunar base.
    And success with lunar exploration means rapidly ending it, and starting the Mars program.
    Neither Mars or Moon exploration should focus much on using resources of Moon or Mars, instead one is looking for resources which might be used.
    The NASA exploration rather use of space resource will lower cost.
    Or NASA can’t make cheap lunar or Martian rocket fuel.
    Though the private sector might manage to do this.

    Or the critical path of all Moon and Mars exploration should not depend on making rocket fuel in space. But the critical path could/should depend upon a market of rocket fuel in space and that market starts with rocket fuel exported from Earth. And even after one has lunar rocket fuel, you probably or must still export rocket fuel from Earth. Perhaps by the time one has hundreds people in Mars settlement all rocket fuel export from Earth may end.

    1. No. We should not do Apollo again, to explore the lunar poles or anything else. Apollo was a dreadful dead end that spawned generations of subsequent failure. Burn the Apollo idea with fire.

  2. “I am following” I meant, I am Not following.

    “The moon is a big place. No one nation is going to dominate it.”

    I agree with that, And once lunar poles are explored and the degree that lunar water is minabl is more known, this will lead to many countries being involved with “lunar development” and US govt doesn’t need to “lead in this” and it should have already lead it, and be leading in terms of Mars- and whether human settlement in near term might be viable.
    I don’t think you going to have Mars settlements without using the Moon, and Mars settlements could useful in terms increasing lunar activity [use]. Though the Moon as gateway would lead to “development” in places other than Mars.

  3. Doesn’t really make sense to be so dismissive of China’s capabilities or called people fraidy cats and racists for noting China is more capable than given credit for.

    China is positioned to make big gains over the coming years and viewing what is taking place as some sort of linear progression that everyone must follow is short sighted.

    It is better to not be complacent and underestimate other’s capabilities.

    That isn’t to say we and the rest of the world aren’t positioned for some big gains too. But being “in the lead” requires people play the same game and it might not be the case we are playing the same game. China appears to be focussed on doing their own thing.

    1. The tech packed on Chinese rover and lander is every bit as modern and impressive, if not more, as NASA is flying. In fact, they plan to use elements of their landing tech on their Mars rover in 2020 as well.

      Sure, they may have not caught up in milestones, but the technology is every bit as modern.

  4. The Chinese Lunar probe looks impressive to me.
    If they ever decide to design and build good stuff for commercial sale they will be even more impressive.

  5. What they have done is impressive, but I think they will never dominate unless they are able to unleash private sector development to the degree that the U.S. has.

    1. Bingo. Our real opportunity is private-sector development. Sure, governments will be involved–undoubtedly too much–but the U.S. has a huge advantage, assuming the government gets out of the way.

  6. Actually Rand is lying about my position. I am fully on board with commercial partnerships regarding the moon and have extensively written to that effect for many years. He should also note my current piece in the Washington Examiner where I critique both the Gateway and the SLS. I championed Zubrin’s Moon Direct idea.

    Regarding the Chinese I can only note that they don’t play well with others on Earth so cannot be expected to play well with others on the moon. The moon may be a big place but the poles are the important parts. The country that controls them controls access to the solar system.

  7. “The Moon is a big place.” 44.5 million km^2. North America 24.7 million km^2 + 200 mile coastal waters for Mexico+Canada+USA+others (20 million km+) is bigger. I’d say that NA’s dominated by USA. The Moon has some features that make it easier to dominate, one for at least as long as it depends on Earth deliveries.

  8. If this mook is typical of the people now running left-wing think tanks, I’m not very impressed. All of Rand’s comments are very much on-point. The man seems almost comically blinkered in his government-only view of spacefaring.

    The piece could have benefited from some decent copy-editing too. He got two of the four words in NOAA’s name wrong, for example. The piece ought to be an embarrassment to CSIS, but likely won’t be as its output seems to be mainly consumed and paid attention to only by those of similar ilk and they all seem badly educated and borderline illiterate anymore.

  9. Did Mr. Lewis carelessly take the position of denying the reality of the Apollo landings? He ends his article with:
    “…A manned presence on the moon is an achievable goal for the United States and, soon, for China. But if it is a race, and if nothing changes, we can predict who will get to the Moon’s surface first.”

    I think all that is contested is 2cd & 3rd place.

    1. Probably not what he intended, but, as with a lot of the rest, badly written and needing a copy editor’s heavy hand before being put out the door.

  10. Some people in the Chinese space community have these plans for SLS like vehicles which I think will be uneconomic and might actually set their space program back by decades. They have been doing a lot given their budget but once they catch up with what the other main space powers have done I don’t like their program that much. I do not think they have a credible vision for future exploration beyond what we already do right now.

    They have a couple of “private” space companies working on reusability though. So do not just consider their main government sector initiatives. Also they have not completely solved the CZ-5 launcher issues yet. Until they get that working reliably all their orbital projects like the space station will be on hold.

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