The only press coverage of Thursday’s hearing of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee about the NASA budget request was from Florida Today, which devoted the entire article not to the budget itself but the claim by some members of the committee that “the United States and China are in an unacknowledged space race that this country could lose” without adequate funding for the agency.
Ah, here we go again: a race between the US and China. The article includes some of the usual claims, including that China “has set a goal of putting an astronaut on the moon by 2017″, even though there has been no official pronouncement by the Chinese about such plans and all indications are that China’s space program is still proceeding at a slow pace (China, for example, has pushed back its next manned mission, Shenzhou 7, from 2007 to 2008.) There’s also as of yet no overt sign of development of a new heavy-lift launcher that would likely needed for such a mission, nor the development of a new spaceport on Hainan from which the launcher would operate, two things that are difficult to do without being noticed, as Dwayne Day noted last fall.
That didn’t stop the Congressional rhetoric, though. “We have a space race going on right now and the American people are totally unaware of all this,” said Tom DeLay. “We had a 40-year lead in space and we’re giving it up… The U.S. is quibbling over $3 billion to $5 billion. It’s amazing to me.”
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who traveled to China earlier this year, said: “The American people have no idea how massive the China space program is.” Interestingly, another congressman who went to China with Kirk, Tom Feeney (R-FL), said last month that he didn’t expect to see a space race developing between the two countries.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), asked Griffin to produce in the next 30 days an unclassified report about the Chinese space program and its goals; Wolf added that “he would hold a hearing on the subject to coincide with the report’s release.” (Is an examination of the Chinese space program really within the purview of an appropriations subcommittee? This sounds more like a job for the House Science Committee.) NASA can start that research on Monday without leaving DC: the Center for Strategic and International Studies is hosting Luo Ge, China National Space Administration Vice Administrator, and other senior Chinese space officials for a discussion about the Chinese space program at 3 pm at the St. Regis Hotel.