In the last couple of months some advocates of the US space program, including NASA administrator Mike Griffin, have been racheting up the rhetoric about the US in danger of being beaten back to the Moon by China. Unless the President and Congress commit more resources to NASA to close The Gap and accelerate other aspects of the exploration architecture, Chinese astronauts will land on the Moon before Americans return. And that, they claim, would be bad, although rarely are people very specific about the negative consequences of such a feat, other than to state vague concerns about “national security”.
A case in point is an editorial in today’s issue of Florida Today by John Glisch. Recalling the original Space Race between the US and USSR that caused President Kennedy to make his bold lunar mission goal, he writes:
Today, it may take that same kind of political gut-check by a new president to boost NASA’s return-to-the-moon plan or risk watching China plant the next flag on our celestial neighbor.
A potential accomplishment that’s already raising national security concerns as China continues its rise as a global economic and military power.
Later, he writes that such claims are “not bogus talk”. “Now leaders in Beijing are seriously pursuing ways to send taikonauts — their name for astronauts — to the moon before America’s scheduled return around 2020.”
Leaving aside the question for the time being of just how serious the consequences a Chinese-first human mission to the Moon would be, there’s the question of just how “seriously” China is pursuing a human lunar mission. Unfortunately for Glisch, his timing is bad:
China currently has no plan to send a man onto the moon, said Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration, on Monday.
“I’ve read reports by foreign media saying that China would carry a manned moon landing in 2020, but I don’t think there has been such a plan,” Sun told a press conference in Beijing.
Sun did add that he believes that “one day China will for sure send its own astronauts to land on the moon”, but he certainly didn’t sound like someone who thought China would get there before 2020. Which makes you wonder just how strong the so-called “China card” is—or should be—in arguments on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for increasing NASA’s budget.