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NASA China Space Politics Science

Shenzhou 9 Sparks Renewed Debate On Space Race With China 283

Posted by Soulskill
from the where's-jfk-when-you-need-him dept.
MarkWhittington writes "With the flight of the Shenzhou 9, which includes the first docking between a Chinese spacecraft and a prototype space station module, a renewed debate has arisen over the implications of Chinese space feats. China is planning a large space station by the end of this decade. It has expressed the desire to land people on the moon sometime in the next decade. Scientists, foreign policy experts and journalists debate whether China has supplanted the U.S. as a space power and whether that matters. 'In reality, the implications of China's move could be a much cooler third option: a new space race between the Chinese government and U.S. startups. While China is 50 years behind the U.S. government, they are much more comparable to U.S. companies. It was only a couple of weeks ago that SpaceX made history by becoming the first private company to successfully dock a space module to a station in orbit. This means they are roughly 10-15 years behind the Chinese government, but they could gain fast.'"
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Shenzhou 9 Sparks Renewed Debate On Space Race With China

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  • Prediction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @01:29AM (#40381505) Homepage Journal
    China will land a man on the moon first, but SpaceX will win the race to Mars.
    • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Riceballsan (816702) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @01:45AM (#40381597)
      The bottom line, what on earth is spaceX's motivation to go to mars? The thing with corporations running things, is they have to be profitable. Hence why spaceX's missions are to deliver to ISS etc... China just has to get a guy there and put up a flag. SpaceX has to, find a resource on mars, figure out a way to obtain said resource, get good enough quanities of it, and bring it back and sell it, for roughly more money then the trip cost. Unless of course they can write it off as a multi-billion dollar marketing plan. But even that, marketing to whom? They aren't in a business where they can easilly increase their number of customers. Only governments, and multi billionares can even think of hiring them, and well, I'm pretty sure every government with interest in stuff from space, and person ritch enough to actually afford a space tourist trip, knows of them already. Maybe a tourist trip where they can bring along say 15-20 of the people on the forbes list who are brave enough to want to be part of the first trip to land on mars, that might fund it.
      • Exactly. Right now, the only way to profit from space is to put satellites in orbit. Nearly everything beyond geostationary is a hobby.

      • by zill (1690130)
        The current ferry missions to the ISS are paid by NASA. I imagine the mission to Mars will be paid by NASA as well.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by halo_2_rocks (805685)
          We can't get people to Mars economically or technologically even. Anyone you send will just die from a number of factors including exposure to solar radiation, micrometeorites, lack of gravity, and we can't physically take enough oxygen, food, and water there and back. Plus, if anything else were to happen, they'd be dead too because nobody could reach them in time to help them. It's a fool's journey.
      • Re:Prediction (Score:4, Informative)

        by edumacator (910819) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @06:12AM (#40383029)

        Elon Musk started SpaceX because he wants mankind to be a multi-planet species. He's not an idiot and wants to be profitable, but he is willing to sink a lot of that profit into doing something historic and necessary for our survival. It goes against every grain of my being to think someone is really willing to put his money where his mouth is, but it seem Elon Musk might be the exception that proves mankind's greed.

        • Wernher von Braun, designer of the Saturn V, also wanted to go to Mars and had even written a fairly detailed book [wikipedia.org] on how to do so. But von Braun knew that to get there, he had to take small steps and not a single giant leap toward the Red Planet. Maybe this is what Musk and von Braun have in common (beside both being naturalized Americans), their willingness to go after intermediate goals (the Moon or LEO) while keeping their ultimate goal (Mars and beyond) still within sight.
      • by stiggle (649614)

        Elon Musk still has control of SpaceX, so it does what he wants it to do. He wants to go to Mars.
        SpaceX was created to get him to Mars.
        Tesla Motors was created to get him about on Mars once he's there. Why else would he develop an electric powered car?

        Martian rock - most major universities and science research institutes would buy some. Rich people would buy some just because they could.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      My prediction : Google will be mining asteroids before China sends a human on the moon.
  • Why the hell can't we progress unless there's some bogeyman to 'win' against. It seems like the same people who want to cripple funding for the sciences and technology suddenly get interested if someone else puts bigger phallic-shaped rockets into space. Oh no! The Chinese might establish a space station! Well good for them. I hope they continue doing well, as that seems to be the only thing that will drag us out from our caves.
    • Because we are human beings and that is what we *do*. The desire to compete with those in the same "group" as you and win are wired into our brains, even our cousins the chimps form teams and engage in competition...though in their case eating the losers babies is always a possibility.
      • by c0lo (1497653)

        Because we are human beings and that is what we *do*. The desire to compete with those in the same "group" as you and win are wired into our brains, ...

        Oh, is it? Is the FOSS movement really only motivated by "Let's compete with the closed source"?

        Maybe I'd agree with you only if you would have limited the scope to "That's how politicians are wired"... but even then I'd have some doubts.

        • Well even FOSS is primarily copying applications that existed firstly as proprietary ones. E.g. OpenOffice vs Microsoft Office, GIMP vs Photoshop, Scribus vs InDesign, etc... Even Gnome is ostensibly a copy of a windowed OS. Most of the first motivations of writing GCC was to provide a toolchain to replace and be better than the proprietary ones.

          Plus FOSS has always claimed to be better (ethical, practical, whatever) than closed source.

          Competetion is part of our nature, it works. It is sometimes called evo
          • Just to let you know, there's no such thing as human nature, hence competing can't be a part of our nature. On the other hand, there's an natural pressure on every living being is to become more successful in adaptation and that is at the root cause of competing in nature, including humans. But as humans, we tend to be more subtle than this. We recognize that it is not only our genetic heritage that must survive, at least not only on personal level, but our groups, our nations, and our species as such for b

        • Do you even bother reading comments, or do you just respond to what you want to read so you can feel all self-righteous and indignant? Did I say that every single human being does everything in the name of competition? Didnt I specifically mention in groups and out groups(for which OSS is mostly made for the in-group, and they often times like to compete with the 'out-group', the proprietary software vendors). Monkeys also cooperate for the common good, that does not preclude them also competing and figh
  • by mpoulton (689851) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @02:00AM (#40381659)
    "While China is 50 years behind the U.S. government..."

    Um. No they aren't. The US government did these same things 50 years ago, but is no longer capable of easily repeating its past feats. The first US moon landing program took less than 10 years from conceptual announcement to a giant leap for mankind. How long would it take for the US to do the same thing again? I'm not confident we even could. I'm not sure we could even replicate China's docking-to-a-station performance in 10 years, now that we've abandoned all of our previously successful manned spaceflight programs.
    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      I won't be counting out the USA with such a broad brush

      Remember, when they sent out the astronauts to the moon, the computing power of the entire space module is less than a 386 chip

      Today, even a not-so-smart phone has computing power much more than the 386

      In other words, if USA wants to go to moon today, it no longer has to do it from scratch

      • by frosty_tsm (933163) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @02:23AM (#40381755)

        I won't be counting out the USA with such a broad brush

        Remember, when they sent out the astronauts to the moon, the computing power of the entire space module is less than a 386 chip

        Today, even a not-so-smart phone has computing power much more than the 386

        In other words, if USA wants to go to moon today, it no longer has to do it from scratch

        Correct, but modern engineering is plagued by over-engineering, design by committee, and (when the government is involved) pork. For example, Congressional funding for NASA and the military specify which districts the components are made in. We also demand better safety and testing (which takes time) where sometimes the gadgets broke. Safety isn't a bad thing. But in 1969 we were willing to risk 3 men's lives with a reasonable probability they would 1) crash 2) get stranded or 3) overshoot the moon and keep going (all of which results in them dying).

        There was a time when the right mix of brains, creativity, and guts came together. Since then, we've gotten smarter but (with respect to NASA) less creative and more risk-adverse.

      • I think the real difference is nothing to do with computer power; after all the Russian space program used drum timers (rad hard and easy to test). The difference is that, to Western countries at least, immediately after a war, casualties in non-military exploits are more acceptable. As time goes on and the threat of war recedes, they are less so. The Moon landings were possible for the US because it was still involved in Vietnam and still perceived the Soviet Union as a credible threat; the risk to the li
        • As time goes on and the threat of war recedes, they are less so.

          You do realise you're at war now? And have been continuously at war for over a decade.

      • by crutchy (1949900)
        i think the op was speaking economically, not technically

        technical obstacles are rarely difficult to overcome in a suitable work environment free of political, legal and economic obstacles.

        politics, bureacracy and corporate profiteering are nasa's biggest obstacles. the same obstacles existed 50 years ago, but now they are much more significant.

        the moon race was fuelled largely by fear of communism driven by a massive amount of propaganda. nowadays the united states is probably seen as being the bo
        • Corporate profiteering is actually helpful to the space race. If going to space is profitable, I'll bet my shirt that commercial companies will be rushing to build a space shuttle replacement without wasting taxpayer money. Oh wait, that's already happening now.
    • The first US moon landing program took less than 10 years from conceptual announcement to a giant leap for mankind.

      Only because work on key components had started as early as 1956, and because design and engineering on pretty much everything involved was already well underway when Kennedy made his speech. Without that running start and all that prep work, the goal of "the end of the decade" would have been unreachable. Kennedy didn't make his choice of stunts in a vacuum.

      How long would it take for

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      China is behind, I'm sure, but not by 50 years. Their achievements are maybe what the US did 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean that they are technologically that far behind.

      NASA has learnt a lot from the moon landings and the shuttle program and everything else they did, a lot of that knowledge is published and the Chinese will definitely learn as much as they can from it. They can buy rocket technology from US companies if they want, too. They will be behind, the most state-of-the-art tech NASA has will

    • Depends what you mean by "no longer capable." No longer capable in the sense of lacking the technical know-how? Of course not. No longer capable in the sense of not having the assembly lines actually set up this moment, not having the raw aluminum and ceramics already sitting on the loading docks, not having the techs already hired and trained in operating the special lathes and die presses? Sure.

      I don't see why this is a very interesting definition, however. If you hire a programmer and say he's "not

  • a renewed debate has arisen over the implications of Chinese space feats

    Well, no. Not really. A couple of pundits and usual suspects lobbing blog entries back and forth at each other, and an article from a third string news service (Yahoo!) does not a renewed debate make... Most because the pundits and usual suspects have never shut up in the first place. If they weren't "debating" China, they'd be "debating" commercial space, or Mars missions, or something else they have no power to influence.
     
    It's a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.
     

    In reality, the implications of China's move could be a much cooler third option: a new space race between the Chinese government and U.S. startups.

    If it's anything like the last space race (a bunch of sterile stunts), I can't see why anyone with any sense would think it was cool. Not that China has shown any interest in such a race, or in any other manner of giving wood to the space fanboy crowd.

    • Your first point is well put.

      I think you're wrong about the second, however. The Chinese appear to have the same general interest in space stunts that the Soviets did: to convince their own population that progress is amazing, that the future is Chinese, and that all those peculiar rumors about brutality and privation in the countryside, or crashing real estate prices on the coast, or high-speed rail roadbeds cracking because of shoddy and corrupt construction, or the wild male/female imbalance in 20-year-

      • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

        The Chinese appear to have the same general interest in space stunts that the Soviets did: to convince their own population that progress is amazing

        [citation needed]

        It's much more likely that your imagination had run wild

        In China, there were no "China is great because we go to the space" slogans blaring across TV screens, nor anything like that

        The average Chinese look at the space program thing as a natural progression - for them, it could be the Taiwanese or the Hongkongnese who done it, they don't really care, as long as _someone_ from East Asia is doing it

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @02:24AM (#40381765)

    It is a dumb statement that china is supposedly 50 years behind with respect to the US. It is an irrelevant statement. Much more important is the fact that China's development is rising rapidly while the development of the US is in decline.

  • Simple: Being the world's top economic (and possibly military) power includes being the top dog in space.

  • Basically, this is about whether the moon will in future display a gigantic Coca-Cola sign or yellow stars on an equally red background.

    Personally, I don't really care.

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:34AM (#40382473)

    This should put things in context: "We Stopped Dreaming"

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=6b4_1337136397 [liveleak.com]

    And despite all the criticisms of the details of NDT's claims, I strongly believe that the underlying theme remains valid. Americans did in fact stop dreaming. The pursuit of science, engineering, and technology, the VALUATION of these things as a foundation for a competitive, progressive, and forward-looking society, is now almost entirely lost upon the American public, replaced by willful superstition, fear, and ignorance. Replaced by doubts about man-made climate change, irrational religious fervor for creationism and other Biblical dogmas, and indeed, an active distrust and suspicion of scientific and critical thinking.

    This is not about what China is doing, folks. This is about what America once did on the belief that anything was possible, and about what America no longer does because that attitude has been replaced by a sense of complacency.

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      I think you are too harsh on the Americans

      The Americans never stop dreaming - it's their dreams that have changed

      Instead of having a collective dream - of a nation going forward - the collective spirit of Americanism had collapsed

      And the American dreams went with it

      Nowadays, if you ask any typical American kids what their dream is - most will tell you about materialistic stuffs, like iPAD or iPhone or stuffs like that

      This is not new, for some 20-30 years ago, the materialistic dreams had pervaded the Americ

  • by TheGoodNamesWereGone (1844118) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @07:33AM (#40383663)
    This isn't about technology. It's about national will. To quote Londo Mollari in Babylon 5, we've become decadent, obsessed with arts and trinkets. Gone is Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you" too. The USA is a nation of pussies now. Everyone wants a handout, and no one wants to contribute to an endeavor greater than themselves. It's all, gimme gimme gimme. We could've been on Mars by 1980 easily. Instead now we can't even get to low Earth orbit. It isn't because we don't know how. It's because our own navels are much more interesting. Yes, I'm disgusted.
  • " There is no mechanism to enforce the 1967 Outer Space Treaty except for a given country’s unwillingness to undergo international opprobrium. Moreover, a country can withdraw from the treaty at will. China tends to do what it wants to do, unless the economic or political price is perceived to be too high. The potential of the Moon and cislunar space may outweigh their sense of geopolitical risk or concern about international ostracism."

    BS. It would not be that hard to launch a nuke towards a luna

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