Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA), chair of the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee, is unsatisfied with one component of the new NASA lunar exploration plan: he thinks a manned landing on 2018 will be too late. Too late for what? He tells Aerospace Daily that he believes that China will land humans on the Moon before then: “I’ve been talking to a number of people that are much more knowledgeable about that than I am, [about] some things that maybe are still classified, but they believe that the Chinese are probably on the mark to get there sooner,” he told the publication.
Obviously, we’re not privy to the possibly-classified information that Calvert has apparently seen, but what is known suggests that while China may be interested in manned lunar missions, their schedule is not that aggressive. After all, next month’s Shenzhou 6 mission—a five-day, two-man flight—comes two years, almost to the day, after Shenzhou 5: hardly the sign of a program racing to the Moon. At last week’s International Lunar Conference in Toronto, Chinese representatives said their unmanned Chang’e lunar exploration program remained on its relatively slow schedule: a lunar orbiter to launch in 2007, a lander around 2012, and a sample return mission by around the end of the next decade. Calvert’s comments sound something like what former Congressman Robert Walker said a couple years ago, when a Japanese parliamentarian—a European in another version of the story—claimed that China would land men on the Moon in “three to four years”. Ooops. Moreover, as I have argued in the past, a space race between the US and China (or anyone else, for that matter), is hardly a recipe for an affordable, sustainable space exploration effort.
There are a couple of other interesting notes in the Aerospace Daily article. Both Calvert and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) support the NASA lunar exploration plan in general, although Rohrabacher said that “some tough ‘prioritizing’ will have to take place” in the overall NASA budget to pay for the plan. Rohrabacher, who previously led the space subcommittee, said he interested in becoming chairman of the full House Science Committee once the current chairman, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), wraps up his final term as committee chair.