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The Lunar Yellow Peril

No need to panic over Chinese space plans.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

January 10, 2012 - 12:00 am
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So, the Chinese government released a white paper outlining its space plans the other day, and it’s apparently driven some pundits loony tunes.

In a post titled “The Obama Legacy: Ceding Earth To Islamists And The Moon To China,” Tammy Bruce was quick to bash the Obama administration over what she perceives as its feckless space policy. Over at IBD, Andrew Malcolm similarly blames the Obama administration for what he declares a “crippling” of the U.S. space program (apparently unaware that the real culprit is the Congress, on a bi-partisan basis, in its pursuit of pork).

But the latest and most egregious in its misunderstanding of both China’s space policy and ours comes from conservative commentator Cal Thomas, who manages to get at least two things wrong in his opening paragraph:

President Obama’s decision in 2010 to cut NASA’s budget and abandon the Constellation program, established by the Bush administration, which was charged with returning Americans to the moon by 2020 and creating an “extended human presence on the moon,” has created a vacuum, which China will attempt to fill.

First, the administration actually proposed an increase in NASA’s budget. And while the original Vision for Space Exploration had a goal of a lunar return by 2020, one had to be delusional to believe that Constellation, as it was being implemented, had a prayer of doing so. In 2009, the Augustine Panel essentially said as much, which is why the administration came up with a new policy that, while not explicitly declaring a lunar return as a goal, would have made it possible sooner in a much more affordable way. Also, the notion that the Chinese are doing this only because we don’t seem to be makes no sense. Does he really think that these plans only arose from an absence of our own, and that they wouldn’t be pursuing the moon if we were?

The second paragraph, in describing China’s ambitions, is worse:

China has announced an ambitious five-year plan that includes the launch of space laboratories, a manned spaceship to the moon and the creation of its own global satellite navigation system that will almost certainly be used for military purposes.

He implies that the Chinese will be sending men to the moon within five years, but that’s not what the white paper says:

China will push forward human spaceflight projects and make new technological breakthroughs, creating a foundation for future human spaceflight.

It will launch the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spaceships and achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit Tiangong-1 vehicle.

China will launch space laboratories, manned spaceship and space freighters; make breakthroughs in and master space station key technologies, including astronauts’ medium-term stay, regenerative life support and propellant refueling; conduct space applications to a certain extent and make technological preparations for the construction of space stations.

China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing.

That’s it. It will “conduct studies on the preliminary plan.” Or perhaps it will contemplate the possibility of conducting such studies. Either way, no taikonauts are going to be making footprints on the moon any time soon.

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