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National Stories, Space Race 2.0

Space Race 2.0: Why America and Russia Should Fear China’s Martian Moment

Icon designed for categorisation of stubs by c...

Icon designed for categorisation of stubs by country, intended for spacecraft owned and/or operated by organisations based in the People’s Republic of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By:  Julian Harris Gibson

Thanks to the massive response from our article, “The Politics of Space: Why Obama Must Restart the Space Race,” we decided to follow-up with a series of articles titled Space Race  2.0. This series examines space politics and space programs around the globe  and how the USA measures up against them.

Our topic today is China. China’s space ambitions are evident and clear. While the first space race with Russia made many people focus on a two superpower race to the Moon, Space Race 2.0 will make both nations fear the Dragon. 

To help America get started on the road to a resurgence in space, we must look at space exploration the same way the late, great, President Kennedy did. Kennedy looked at the Apollo missions not as something we merely wanted to do, but something the world needed us to do. 

The pride Americans and citizens of the world felt when Neil Armstrong touched down on the lunar surface will only be matched when the first man or woman touches down on the martian surface. The only question is will that man or woman have an American, Russian or Chinese flag across their shoulder? Even better, will we have finally moved past nationalism and into an era of global unity as a species?

Who really  knows, but I do know if America keeps borrowing from China for never-ending wars and cutting from NASA while China keeps launching into space, we may see a Chinese flag on Mars decades before we see an American one. The sad financial reality for America is bleak and with our balooning $16 trillion national debt, our grandchildren may end up paying for China’s martian moment.

China landing on Mars will not be a sad day for humanity; in fact, it will symbolize our limitless achievement as humans. However, it will bring an end to the two-nation superpower space race and forever change the possibilities in space for nations like Japan, India and Canada. Americans can no longer watch with bitter-sweet nostalgia as our space shuttles become relics in a museum.  

Frankly, I feel the footage of their entry into the historical  archives symbolizes their slow march to honorable irrelevancy at the same time we watch other nations blast off and fulfill the space dreams of their citizens.  If Eisenhower though Sputnik I was so much of a national embarrassment that he had to start NASA, can you imagine the pressure President Obama will be under once China lands their first rover on the Moon?

China’s new leader, Xi Jinping is now at the helm of the world’s most populated nation and its fastest growing space program. While American politicians are cutting NASA funds and delaying missions to Mars, China’s plans for the rest of this decade are clear–onward and upward.  For example, China  has plans to return to Tiangong 1 (it’s space laboratory) in 2013. The next year Tiangong 2 will be launched and by 2020 Tiangong 3‘s construction should be well under way. Meanwhile, America has ended its space shuttle program and has laid off thousands of astrophysicists and engineers not to mention the massive hurt this decision passed onto the already fragile  Houston and Florida economies.

China’s ambitions in space is not the only priority for Mr. Xi who has a slowing down economy, need for cleaner energy and ever-increasing population to feed. However, none of these problems have forced them to cut their space program in the way our Congress has cut NASA, SETI and many other aerospace initiatives over the past 20 years.

Newt Gingrich‘s idea of a permanent American lunar base during the Republican Primary may have seemed hilarious to some, until you realize that China is launching its first robotic lunar lander in 2013–Who’s laughing now? Furthermore, China has plans to build upon its robotic astronaut program for years to come.

While I am very proud of NASA’s work throughout it’s 54 year history and its recent success’ with the curiosity rover, American citizens must support NASA more than ever to keep the dream of a manned  mission to Mars alive. If not, NASA will be considered a pioneer in space exploration that has been passed by due to government red tape and media giants more concerned with the latest celebrity sex scandal than our journey to the actual stars.

I hope Americans rekindle our orbital appetites and put pressure on our legislators to increase NASA funding.  Additionally, we need to  finally support the commercial space industry the same way the government supported the aviation industry in the early 20th century. However, America is now in second place to Russia, who is currently the only nation taking humans to the international space station for a measly $64 million per person and China is coming up behind us in our rear view mirror –fast.

On the day China reaches Mars first, America will regret ending our shuttle program without a viable replacement. We will rue the day we decided to stop the Apollo missions. We will wish we could go back in time and stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan years earlier and invest in American innovation. So, now that we know that China’s on a mission to beat everyone back to the Moon as the make their way to plant a Chinese flag on Martian soil, there’s only one question left for Americans. What are we going to do about it?

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