Earlier today NASA administrator Mike Griffin gave a luncheon speech in Washington to talk about the “space economy”,
a concept part of the agency’s new strategic communications plan. His most noteworthy comment, though, came near the end of the Q&A session after his talk, when he was asked about the potential for cooperation and competition with other emerging space powers, including (but not limited to) China:
I personally believe that China will be back on the Moon before we are. I think when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it. I think we will see, as we have seen with China’s introductory manned space flights so far, we will see again that nations look up to other nations that appear to be at the top of the technical pyramid, and they want to do deals with those nations. It’s one of the things that made us the world’s greatest economic power. So I think we’ll be reinstructed in that lesson in the coming years and I hope that Americans will take that instruction positively and react to it by investing in those things that are the leading edge of what’s possible.
It wasn’t explicitly clear from his comments whether he was referring to robotic or human exploration of the Moon, but most people in the room appeared to interpret it as referring to human lunar missions.
Update Tuesday 12:30 pm: Griffin told Aerospace Daily that he indeed was referring to human lunar exploration in his comments, particularly if China elects not to develop a heavy-lift vehicle: “If one is willing to make use of multiple Earth-orbit rendezvous, a really big rocket is not required,” he told Aerospace Daily in an email. “It’s pretty cumbersome, but it can be done.”