China goes boldly

In his last days as one of the space shuttle program’s flight directors, Minnesota native Paul Dye had a good answer when I asked him about the future of human space exploration.

As a species, I have no doubt that humanity is a race of explorers. There is a difference between humanity and a nation. I think that we will continue to explore as a species.

We will continue to explore this planet. There is a great vast ocean bottom that hasn’t been looked at. We will explore low earth orbit some more. We will explore near planets, and we will move out into the stars.

This is not to say the United States of America is going to be the one to lead that charge. Just as the British Empire tapered off and the Roman Empire tapered off, sooner or later almost all human institutions end. But that does not end what humankind does.

The United States still has dreamers, although they’re in the private sector now and the program is no longer a source of national identity. But it was hard not to think of Dye’s observation with Thursday’s news that China has visited the far side of the moon.

You’re probably in one of two camps on this one. There’s the “China eats our lunch” crowd. But there’s also the “that’s pretty cool” caucus that is probably more faithful to the idea of human achievement.

“All spacefaring nations have their sights set on the moon, for reasons of both pride — how they view themselves as a nation—and prestige, in the sense of how others view them,” Jim Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University, told PBS NewsHour last month. “Furthermore, as in the initial Cold War competition between America and the U.S.S.R., successful space exploration is a huge demonstration of ‘soft power,’ the ability to show technological prowess and leadership in a non-threatening peaceful manner.”

“We Chinese people have done something that the Americans have not dared try,” Zhu Menghua, a professor at the Macau University of Science and Technology, said Thursday.

China intends to establish a human base on the moon by late in the next decade, and to send a probe to Mars that can return to Earth.

“This is a major achievement technically and symbolically,” Namrata Goswami, an independent analyst, tells the New York Times. “China views this landing as just a steppingstone, as it also views its future manned lunar landing, since its long-term goal is to colonize the moon and use it as a vast supply of energy.”

Meanwhile, the International Space Station continues to go around in circles, as it has since 1998. The U.S. plans to eliminate funding for it in 2025, likely leaving China’s as the only space station, making Dye a space prophet.

  • MrE85

    Hat tip to the CNSA for the accomplishment. We should also note for the record that a US-made probe just did a near fly-by of an object 4 BILLION miles away and sent back the photos to prove it.

    • That probe was launched by a country far different than the one that is around today.

      • The US had a good run…

      • Ben Chorn

        SPACE FORCE!

        • 212944

          PEW! PEW!

      • 212944

        Just over the holidays, I recommended “The Right Stuff” (movie), “From the Earth to the Moon (HBO series) and “Apollo 13” (movie) in that order to my 13-year-old nephew. All are great, but the HBO series is storytelling (and a version of what we can accomplish) at its best.

      • Jeff

        It was on Nova (PBS) last night. It was fascinating how they even found the object to fly-by. They didn’t know it was there when the probe was launched and had to do some amazing astronomy to figure out there was something they could fly-by and then navigate to within a few thousand miles of it.

        Maybe a different country, but the scientists are still more than functional. So many are women too.

        • Imagine what they could do if the country was interested in doing it.

          • Jeff

            NASA gets $20 billion or so. Just thinking $5 billion wouldn’t be chump change to them.

          • Brian Simon

            Would $5B be enough to put a wall around Tranquility Base?

            Maybe it’s just a matter of shifting focus…

          • Tyler

            Thank god for Elon Musk.

  • jon

    When the “new world” was discovered the only organizations with the resources and funds to send ships to explore it were governments.

    Eventually after the trips proved to be profitable, the private sector moved in, and found ways of making it more profitable.

    We are seeing that now in space exploration from the US. There was a point when it was the pursuit only of the government, but companies like spacex, blue origins, bigelow, are working to shift the tides, they’ve yet to make a great deal of wealth from exploration, but spacex at least is funding itself via satellite launches… launches that are funding right now the tools for exploration that the government never managed…

    With all that being said, it’s great that we’ve (humanity) got a probe on the far side of the moon…. maybe we can learn something from it…

    I don’t see it as a large bragging point for China from a technological standpoint… most countries with an engineering school could manage the technology for this in the current era, cost is the limiting factor. and China is the second largest economy in the world… so bragging that they could spare the expense might be something worth doing… But the US recently spared the expense to put a probe on mars that will drill into mars to provide data on how the planet was created, and what the core looks like (and how much energy is in the core that could be tapped into should any one ever go there.)

    • Mike

      The Jamestown Colony was a for-profit enterprise from the beginning, and tobacco was its currency. The US-USSR space race that resulted in the Apollo moon landings was more about global competition between the two superpowers, which of course also had a profit component.

      Money is never far behind in these initiatives, even when it’s not obvious at the beginning.

      • Rob

        Yup. As my dear sainted mother used to say, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

  • Barton

    This is completely cool – except that the mission logo really looks like a copyright violation of the Star Trek logo for the Federation…. Maybe this is where the United Federation of Planets begins?

    • Joseph

      I first thought it was the Federation logo too!

    • Jeff

      I haven’t thought it out completely but Gene Roddenberry must have been a time traveler from the future, so the logo is actually the Federation of Planets logo from the future (one of those circular time travel things).

  • Angry Jonny
  • Ben Chorn

    Are you referring to mining in space? There’s a lot of interest in mining things like asteroids:

  • The Resistance

    I was talking to a Turkish citizen the other day who told me how most of her Turkish friends view China’s get-‘er-done dictatorship as a model for the future.

    One of the heartbreaking results of our endless cycle of government shutdowns is that it provides an easy example for undemocratic regimes to show that democracy is not a viable governing system.

    It’s unfathomable to much of the world how a country with all branches of government controlled by one party (until this afternoon) could shut itself down.

    • 212944

      “One of the heartbreaking results of our endless cycle of government shutdowns is that it provides an easy example for undemocratic regimes to show that democracy is not a viable governing system.”

      Or used to show voters that same, if taking a more local view.