U.S. Boldly Goes No More as China’s Space Program Takes Off

As the Space Shuttle began its final mission, Ray Kwong at Forbes noted the difference in momentum between the American and Chinese space programs:

Unless there’s a financial miracle, America’s once-proud space program is effectively shutting down when shuttle Atlantis returns from its 12-day mission to the International Space Station.

China, meanwhile, is cooking with rocket fuel ….

China, the third country to put a human into orbit on its own rockets, will be launching Tiangong 1, the first module of its own space station, as soon as September. They’ll be following up just weeks later with its first in-orbit docking attempt which, if successful, could mean China could have a fully operational space station by 2020. The station will accommodate a three-person crew, and will be roughly the size of NASA’s Skylab, the first U.S. space station ….

China’s civil space projects include not only the space station and the manned Shenzhou capsules that will carry its Taikonauts to it and back, but also deep space probes such as the Chang’e 2 probe, which flew out of lunar orbit on June 9 heading to a point almost a million miles from Earth.

China also hopes to make its first moon landing within two years and to put an astronaut on the moon as early as 2025.

China may be over half a century behind the US in putting a man on the moon, but on Twitter, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson suggested that America has been steadily moving backwards since the late 60s:

Many lament the shuttle era’s end. But that’s misplaced sentiment. Lament instead the absence of an era to replace it … nobody lamented the end of Gemini because Apollo was set to launch from the pad next-door.

Apollo in 1969. Shuttle in 1981. Nothing in 2011. Our space program would look awesome to anyone living backwards thru time.

For an in-depth explanation of why the Shuttle might be seen as a step backwards from the Apollo program, see A Rocket To Nowhere.

July 8, 2011 6:22 PM
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