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Shenzhou 9 Sparks Renewed Debate On Space Race With China

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the where's-jfk-when-you-need-him dept.

NASA 283

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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283 comments

Prediction (5, Interesting)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 2 years ago | (#40381505)

China will land a man on the moon first, but SpaceX will win the race to Mars.

Re:Prediction (1)

spokenoise (2140056) | about 2 years ago | (#40381547)

China will colonise the moon

Re:Prediction (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381551)

No, they'll build their own knock-off moon.

Re:Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381585)

Then they'll build a big barrier around it and tell everyone it's the real one.

Do you mind ? (-1, Redundant)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381705)

Would you guys please stick to the real issue here?

It's about China's entry in the space venture, and USA's reaction to it

It's not about China creating a fake moon or erecting a barrier or whatever kind of stereo-typical stale jokes

Re:Do you mind ? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381727)

OK, real issues... Will China ever create a television show as good as "Star Trek: The Next Generation"?

Because, if not, nobody will care about their manned space program.

Re:Do you mind ? (4, Insightful)

spokenoise (2140056) | about 2 years ago | (#40381731)

I do mind. I seriously think China will get up there and stay before the US unless the US pimp it up as a face saver. China will do it for a tiny proportion of the budget with less fanfare and make it work. Eventually. 'To infinity and beyond'

Re:Do you mind ? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381841)

I do not think the Chinese wants to stay up there for long if the ROI doesn't materialize

The Chinese are pragmatic people

Re:Do you mind ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381995)

we also have "Face" which is along the same lines as Pride but depending on who you ask, more or less vacuous. CCP will do whatever that saves their face.

Re:Do you mind ? (3, Interesting)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40382171)

When the Japanese sent their spacecraft to a comet, collected some comet dusts, and then brought those space dusts back to earth, I don't see CCP immediately sent their own spacecraft in doing the same thing

It's more likely that the CCP really does not care what others think - they just do whatever they do on their own schedule
 

It's a space "RACE" because that's what US wants (5, Interesting)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381569)

China had wanted to cooperate with the world in the space venture

China had wanted to join the ISS

The United States of America objected, and barred the Chinese from ever stepping into the ISS

That left China with no other alternative but to construct their own space station

In other words, the space "RACE" has become a race because that's what USA had always wanted

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381591)

I thought everyone wanted competition? Otherwise there'd just be a multi-national monopoly... blah blah snore...

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (4, Informative)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#40381693)

The United States of America objected, and barred the Chinese from ever stepping into the ISS

I was about to put a "[citation needed]".
Then, changed my mind and went after the info myself (is posting it [google.com] "karma whoring"?)

A cat is a cat and a fact is a fact. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382151)

Doesn't matter, had citation?

Re:A cat is a cat and a fact is a fact. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382167)

Doesn't matter, had citation?

For some purposes (e.g. homicide suits), the intent matters (murder/manslaughter)

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381721)

The US had plenty of good reasons for barring China from the ISS, the most conspicuous of these being that China would likely not contribute much, if anything, to the program and would end up trying to steal as much technology as they could for their own benefit.

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (-1, Troll)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381955)

The US had plenty of good reasons for barring China from the ISS, the most conspicuous of these being that China would likely not contribute much

If that was true, Italy, Brazil and India (among other not-so-advanced states) would have been barred from the ISS
 

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (1)

petsounds (593538) | about 2 years ago | (#40381729)

I think that's what most of us wanted, considering China is a communist country who is rapidly increasing the size and technical capacity of their military. And of course the nuclear warheads they have. Why would we want to give them cutting-edge missile technology?

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381945)

They already had cutting-edge missile technology...
They just applied it to something new:)

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (4, Funny)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381977)

I think that's what most of us wanted, considering China is a communist country

Umm ... Last time I checked Russia is a communist country too

How come there was no similar battle cry over Russia (and the previous USSR) involvement in the ISS?

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (4, Insightful)

YttriumOxide (837412) | about 2 years ago | (#40382241)

Umm ... Last time I checked Russia is a communist country too

It's clearly been a LONG time since you checked... it's been a Federal Republic with a multi-party representative democracy since the 25th of December 1991...

You could of course argue back and forth that they're not a very good democracy, but that's a matter of each person's own opinion.

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (4, Informative)

jamstar7 (694492) | about 2 years ago | (#40381761)

What gets me is, the article claims the Chinese are going to build a 'big space station'. Actually, the current plans are to have a 60 ton station in orbit by 2020. The ISS, on the other tentacle, weighs approximately 450 tons.

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (3, Funny)

GNious (953874) | about 2 years ago | (#40381787)

If the average Chinese person is smaller than the average American person, it could be argued that the average Taikonaut is smaller than the average Astronaut - so while the station may be physically smaller, it will appear bigger!

uhm, or not...

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381811)

What gets me is, the article claims the Chinese are going to build a 'big space station'. Actually, the current plans are to have a 60 ton station in orbit by 2020. The ISS, on the other tentacle, weighs approximately 450 tons.

Consider the tone of TFA, and then consider the real aim of TFA, and you can understand all the necessary exaggerations

I won't be surprised if those behind TFA has something to do with the defence industrial complex - after all, it's the defence industrial complex stands to gain the most if the people scared enough to demand their congress representative to "revive our space program before the Chinese overtakes us"
 

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381969)

The ISS is probably a bit bloated to begin with.
Nice to have all that space, but every participating nation needed its own module to feel good.

Don't think it is a matter of size of people. Some Chinese people are bigger than me and I'm a tall guy.

Re:It's a space "RACE" because that's what US want (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381803)

That left China with no other alternative but to construct their own space station

With blackjack. And hookers.

Mind cut out all the racist garbage? (-1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381833)

It ain't do anybody any good with racist garbage, like the one you have posted, in serious discussions, like this

Please cut it out

Thank you !

Re:Mind cut out all the racist garbage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381909)

whoosh

Re:Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381629)

Not if we build condos!

Re:Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381561)

Which race to Mars? Given the duration of the travel to Mars, I do not see why a privately funded company should want to go there. Certainly not for tourism. And I would not consider research that much, as most companies would most likely not benefit from a trip to Mars, other than prestige. And that would be a quite expensive PR stunt.

So, considering the next 20-30 years I do not see any private organisations going to Mars, unless there are some major breakthroughs in engines and life support to make it feasible for tourists or mining.

Re:Prediction (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#40381639)

And I would not consider research that much, as most companies would most likely not benefit from a trip to Mars, other than prestige. And that would be a quite expensive PR stunt.

Did you think the same about docking with the ISS? There's not cash at the ISS. But that's going to be profitable for SpaceX, as is moving people to-and-from. They were testing the SuperDraco escape rocket engines a couple days ago for manned flights with the Dragon capsule... https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/214831794103664640 [twitter.com]

Lo and behold... the same profit model exists for Mars:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX#.22Red_Dragon.22_Mars_mission_concept [wikipedia.org]

Meanwhile, Elon Musk has been talking quite a bit about manned trips to mars and eventual colonization. Last I heard he was estimating 10-15 years if things go well, at an eventual cost of about half a million per head.

There are lots of people that make silly estimates. He has a knack for coming through, with a certain margin for error, on big-ass goals.

Re:Prediction (0, Troll)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40381741)

Elon Musk has been talking quite a bit

yeah he does that. unfortunately he doesn't do much else though

Re:Prediction (4, Insightful)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#40382035)

He doesn't do much else? Like him or not, I can't think of many people that have done more than he has. And it's not like he sets small goals.

SolarCity, which apparently is the largest provider of solar systems in the US. That would be enough for any person to feel like they achieved something.

Co-founded Tesla Motors, who brought the electric car back from the dead, and last I'd heard, is actually profitable. Also provides powertrain tech to other auto companies. Company is worth over a billion now, the Model S starts production this year and the Model X starts in 2014. I believe they already maxed out preproduction reservations.

SpaceX. Started with $100m of his own money. Has $1.6 billion (minimum) to $3.x billion (max) in contracts for resupply flights to the ISS. Just made history as the first commercial company to complete one of those missions... and it was a nearly flawless one. Equipment to make the Dragon capsule safe for manned flight is in the works (as linked above).

Of course there's Paypal (formerly his X.com). I imagine he did alright on that deal... which was no small feat.

Sure he talks big, but the dude is only 40 and has already done a lot.

Re:Prediction (0)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381769)

Elon Musk has no credibility on going to Mars and talking out of his hat. What is required to go to Mars is a truly mammoth ship with rotating sections, radiation shields, sealed sections, and so on. It would cost trillions to send anyone with our current technology and many of those that went would have a very good chance of ending up dead. Bear in mind that going to Mars means leaving the earth's gravity well, magnetic field, travelling for two years there and back and so on. Without adequate supplies, artificial gravity, radiation protection, and so on, you are going to die. And even with that, there is a good chance a micrometeorite will kill you on the way.

Re:Prediction (1)

ongelovigehond (2522526) | about 2 years ago | (#40381867)

The Dragon capsule is a tiny little thing. How is anybody supposed to land on Mars with that, and carry enough oxygen, water and food to survive for long enough to do anything useful? In addition, you'd need energy generators, communication equipment, scientific instruments, and some sort of Mars buggy. This will never fit, so it would have to be a much bigger capsule. Now, how is he going to land that monster safely ? The heat shield and parachutes are going to be mostly ineffective through the thin Martian atmosphere, so a lot of the braking needs to be done by rockets. This requires a lot of extra fuel (more mass), plus he needs to figure out how to keep the exhaust flame stable while it faces supersonic winds.

Re:Prediction (2)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#40382095)

I don't recall him (or anyone else) saying that they planned to use the Dragon capsule for manned missions to Mars.

Re:Prediction (1)

ongelovigehond (2522526) | about 2 years ago | (#40382137)

In the link you've provided it says they (maybe not Musk) plan to use the Dragon capsule. However, upon reading some I see they're only planning to use it for unmanned landings, which is of course a whole lot easier.

Re:Prediction (4, Interesting)

Riceballsan (816702) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Prediction (2)

ongelovigehond (2522526) | about 2 years ago | (#40381617)

Exactly. Right now, the only way to profit from space is to put satellites in orbit. Nearly everything beyond geostationary is a hobby.

Re:Prediction (1)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381683)

Agreed. The money is in satellites. Even space tourism is stupid. There is no hotels in space. The SpaceX guys should work on delivering payloads to low earth orbit inexpensively and suborbital travel. You should be able to deliver people anywhere in the world in an hour with that. Now, that is something people will pay for.

Re:Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381801)

Agreed. The money is in satellites. Even space tourism is stupid. There is no hotels in space. The SpaceX guys should work on delivering payloads to low earth orbit inexpensively and suborbital travel. You should be able to deliver people anywhere in the world in an hour with that. Now, that is something people will pay for.

Lose 5 hours at the airport courtesy of the american SS and get to your destination in 1 hour. Yeah it doesn't make sense.

Re:Prediction (1)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381835)

You do realize many international flights are 16-18 hours plus in length. Try flying to Japan someday. I'm sure people would happily trade that for a 1 hour flight instead.

Re:Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381687)

Oh for the love of...

There is truth here, especially in general, but honestly its pretty apparent that Elon Musk does things because he wants to. Tesla is a long way from even breaking even, let alone any real return on investment. Much more so than SpaceX Tesla just doesn't make sense financially. That said, even looking to SpaceX, the company was started long before there was money on the table for orbital delivery. Sure, this stuff has been talked about forever, but to a very real extent the funding came about because SpaceX was available to accept such a large portion of it, not the other way around.

Re:Prediction (2)

Riceballsan (816702) | about 2 years ago | (#40382093)

Certainly, and Elon Musk has a good budget to do things, but you still have to factor in, it is a finite budget. He cannot go toe to toe with china, purely funneling income from his other businesses and expect to come out on top. We can easilly get to where we've gone 50 years ago on a fairly small budget, especially with ex-nasa working for him. But actually doing the level of in depth R&D that is going to be needed to take us to new frontiers, I just don't think that can be done without a government being willing to throw ENORMOUS chunks of change into the project.

Re:Prediction (2)

zill (1690130) | about 2 years ago | (#40381699)

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:Prediction (2, Informative)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381713)

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.

renewed space race (1950 america) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381535)

it's time to stop funding nasa with government money and scrap the entire thing and sell it to the highest bidder for the benefit of the tax payer...
Nasa is not a provider of real jobs, and people that want to stick their money into are free to do so with their own money.

(it's a billionaires funding scheme and it's course has run to drain the US government)
and BTW i'm not an america and i think it should end because it is of no benefit to workers.

Re:renewed space race (1950 america) (0)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381887)

I do not understand why parent is modded to -1 (Flamebait)

It does cost BILLIONS to send human beings to space and keep them alive up there

While I do not agree with stop funding NASA, I do agree that NASA has to re-organize its priorities and stop wasting tax-payers' money on un-necessary mission

Especially during times where many tax-payers are feeling the impact of the economic crisis

Re:renewed space race (1950 america) (3, Insightful)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#40382107)

Nasa is not a provider of real jobs, .

This would qualify as either totally dumb (the poster didn't know better) or flamebait/troll (that is: ignoring on purpose the reality [nasa.gov] for the sake of controversy).

Poe's law [wikipedia.org] would offer an explanation why the mods chose the second.

The Space Race (1)

DeadDecoy (877617) | about 2 years ago | (#40381549)

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.

Re:The Space Race (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 2 years ago | (#40381593)

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.

Re:The Space Race (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381641)

Last I checked, there were no *free roaming* chimps in Miami, yet some face eatin' was going down there, I hear.

Re:The Space Race (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#40381793)

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.

Please visit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381645)

http://www.logodesign-ed.com/

Is China even behind at all? (5, Insightful)

mpoulton (689851) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381673)

We don't need to go back to the Moon. We went there, planted a flag, and left. There is no reason to go back to the Moon or to Mars. If China wants to waste a few hundred billion dollars on space, let them. That is one expensive flag planting ceremony.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381757)

There is every reason to go to the Moon. It's a stepping stone to everywhere. It's a giant ball of raw resources, with 1/6 the surface gravity of the Earth, and no atmosphere, and it is always sitting at more or less the same distance from us. To ignore such an enormous asset is just about the silliest thing any long-term space exploration plan could possibly do.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381901)

What resources are you talking about? There are rocks, and lots of dust and maybe some water. WoW!!! We have that here. And it only costs a couple of hundred billion to get there to get those off the Moon. Do you even have any idea what you are talking about? Despite what you think, the Moon is not made of cheese or gold.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (2)

Teun (17872) | about 2 years ago | (#40382203)

You have a very limited view of the future.

Because of the lower gravity the moon is a potential space port that'll make other space-based ventures much easier.
When the raw materials to build the equipment for such ventures are also present it becomes even more interesting.

But you have to be able to understand/appreciate humanity is not ultimately bound to earth.
As a matter of fact, there is even debate if we (life) originates on this earth!

Re:Is China even behind at all? (2)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40382253)

Go where exactly? You are clearly deluded by too much science fiction in your diet. There is nothing out there and we are so technologically backward, it will be literally centuries till we have the technology to go anywhere economically in our own solar system. After we develop economical fusion power, can feed and cloth all the people on the planet, and have a stable world political and economic system - then MAYBE that might be the time to start thinking about exploring with manned missions. Right now, we are nowhere close to any of that and it will be centuries (if we don't blow ourselves up first) till we are.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (4, Insightful)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#40381859)

We don't need to go back to the Moon. We went there, planted a flag, and left. There is no reason to go back to the Moon or to Mars. If China wants to waste a few hundred billion dollars on space, let them. That is one expensive flag planting ceremony.

(groan) ^This coming less than 50 years after [jfklibrary.org]... :

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (5, Insightful)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#40382159)

Perhaps more appropriate, his Rice U speech:

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will space.

As soon as the US got to the moon, they rested, they waited. While space will be conquered by those who are moving forward.

"The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space -- each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision." – XKCD [xkcd.com]

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

ongelovigehond (2522526) | about 2 years ago | (#40382231)

What else was there to do ? All you can do is walk around in a space suit, do a bit of science, and come back. The science can be done much better by unmanned rovers, and we're still doing that.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40381685)

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

Re:Is China even behind at all? (4, Insightful)

frosty_tsm (933163) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Safety (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 2 years ago | (#40381759)

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 lives of a few astronauts was nothing compared to the 70 000 US dead in Vietnam.

In 2012, the perceived risk to a relatively few individuals dominates. The Shuttle disasters were nothing compared to the number of people killed on the roads, but were high profile. The result is that any manned expeditions have a huge safety overhead not present in the past, making them more expensive and harder to carry out. The Chinese government won't care. Their internal propaganda still has lots of stories of heroic cadres killed spreading Communism, and the like. A few dozen deaths getting to the Moon will not matter compared to the national prestige.

Incidentally I think we are right. Prestige is not worth killing people for. The Mars rovers and the probes sent to outer planets are in reality a far greater achievement than putting people on the Moon, and there is a point to them; for instance, we are now aware of the dangers of asteroid/cometary collisions and are starting to think seriously about averting them, and the ability to study weather and geology on other planets has huge implications for climate modeling. It may not be practical to get the human race off this rock (I happen to think the economics are completely against it), but what we are learning about the rest of the Solar System could have a huge impact on how long we are able to keep inhabiting it.

Re:Safety (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#40382189)

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.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (2)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40381823)

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 boogyman that other nations fear, so its much more difficult for the us government propaganda machine to recreate the same level of fear in its own citizens required to justify multi-billion dollar political objectives like planting a flag on the moon first.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

simoncpu was here (1601629) | about 2 years ago | (#40382139)

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.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#40381735)

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 the US to do the same thing again?

That depends entirely on how much money the US is willing to spend.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#40381743)

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 be kept as state secrets, but that doesn't make them 50 years behind, more like 10 years. And they're learning still.

What China is mostly behind in is general organisation and management. They just don't have that kind of expertise, the experience as can be found in NASA. Again that is something they are catching up with fast, too, and the current mission is definitely a big experience, and if successful, a great success. A manual docking is really tough to achieve in space.

The Chinese are doing with their space program the exact same as what the US was doing 50 years ago, during the moon race. They want to show their people and the world that they are a country to recon with, that they are as advanced as the other major economies. And of course for the glory of their government and the communist party - which of course was exactly what the then-US government tried to do for themselves.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381919)

I live in China. I do not have the impression that this is to glorify a bunch of leaders. At least where I am that is not the sentiment. People see it as important, because China is advancing technologically and it is a natural next step to do space exploration. Other than that, the reactions are very balanced. It is not really a matter of national pride.

By what I know and see, the Chinese are doing it right. They don't rush anything. My guess is that China has as much experience with ballistic rockets as the US and if they wanted they could probably build a heavier launch vehicle in 5 years. Doing it right is probably the safety margin of that extra five. Don't underestimate their general organization and talent. This is a country with virtually unlimited resources of people and that helps to get things done.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40381957)

Unlmited resources to waste apparently on foolish national projects. Why don't they pour that money into cleaning up their environment? Last time I visited China, the air was polluted, the water was polluted and the whole place stank. China is really a modern cesspool of manufacturing pollution. It's really is a dirty, filthy, polluted third-world country with delusions of grandeur.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382051)

so was the US when it went through it's own industrial revolution. just because you visibly cleaned up your act first does not grant you the right to pretend it didn't happen or to boss anyone else around for going through similar motions.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40382085)

So what? The Chinese are so stupid they can't learn from anyone else so they have to repeat every other country's mistake? Have fun in that polluted hell-hole you've created for yourselves. Most civilized people know not to take a dump where they live. The Chinese decided to take a collective dump on their whole country. Maybe that is why they are going to space? Because they haven't polluted it yet and their own country is unlivable.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40382243)

So what? The Chinese are so stupid they can't learn from anyone else so they have to repeat every other country's mistake?

It's not about "repeating every other country's mistake"

It's about the very fact that there is simply _NO_ way to build up any serious industrial program without having any pollution

And ...

The West (including Japan) aren't helpful in that regards either

When China was progressing ahead in the 1980's and 1990's, the West (and Japan) already had technologies that they were already using, that can produce the same amount of products while drastically cutting down on the pollution

If the West (and Japan) offered those technology to China and China refused to accept those technologies, then you are right - China is so stupid and they can't learn

But the truth is, during 1980's, 1990's and the early 2000's, the West (and Japan) were holding all those technologies close to their chest, and refusing to share them with China

The fact is - In 1990's, the technology an average China factory was using, was actually at the same level as technologies that the West (and Japan) were using during the 1950's, the 1960's and the 1970's

Average level of tech China's factories are using now is equivalent to the level of technology the West (and Japan) were using in the 1980's and early 1990's
 

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382065)

Why don't they pour that money into cleaning up their environment?

Does the clean air on the Wall Street helps you much?

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

halo_2_rocks (805685) | about 2 years ago | (#40382129)

Despite Chinese propaganda, only speculators were hurt in the economic meltdown on Wallstreet. The real US economy wasn't affected and only people that lost jobs worked in the speculative bubble of finance and real estate. BTW - China has a real estate bubble 100x larger, with whole cities and apartment blocks built that are empty. Can't wait for that bubble to implode and see the millions of chinese out of work as a result. Maybe that will deflate their ego a little.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (2)

Quadraginta (902985) | about 2 years ago | (#40381809)

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 capable" of generating a nice SQL program, you probably don't mean he isn't capable of generating one instantly, on the spot -- that it would take a few hours, say, to write it and debug it. You probably mean he lacks the know-how -- he's got to read books, do a little experimentation. So saying the US isn't "capable" of landing on the Moon, should it decide to do so, seems a peculiar if not deliberately inflammatory use of the phrase. It's a little like saying Magic Johnson can't sink a basket any more, because he is presently retired, probably a little out of shape, and let us say at the moment asleep or at Disneyland with his granddaughter. I mean, yeah, technically, right at the moment, sure, but let's be serious.

Re:Is China even behind at all? (0)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#40382077)

Depends what you mean by "no longer capable." No longer capable in the sense of lacking the technical know-how? Of course not.

In the 1990's, it was estimated that the US would take twice as long to get to the moon as it did the first time. Constellation was meant to have it's first (LEO-only) hardware flying by 2014. When cancelled, it was burning a couple of $billion/yr and falling one year further behind schedule every year. And the stripped down successor program, SLS, won't launch a human until after 2021 - if it stays on schedule. And will cost almost as much as the Apollo program. That's just to launch the rocket and capsule. And there's no program to build any mission hardware anyway. (Plus many space activists, and many at NASA, don't think SLS will ever fly.)

So yes, the US currently lacks the technical know-how to create a space program capable of getting to the moon, even when the President Bush (both of them, in fact) challenged them to do so. Not just the will, or the funding, but the know-how. I believe it would take at least a decade of solid development, probably longer, just to build up a workforce with the technical skill to begin to do a lunar program. And it seems that NASA isn't currently capable of running such a skills-development program, or even recognising the need, nor would Congress fund them even if they did.

SpaceX, otoh, seems to be copying the incremental development of the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo program. Other new.space players are also trying. So it's possible that US private space can develop the technical know-how, and has the will. But not US government space.

This is not your father's space program.

It's a little like saying Magic Johnson can't sink a basket any more,

No. It's like saying that Magic can't compete at the national level any more. Not "doesn't want to". Not "currently isn't". Can't.

An echo in an echo chamber is still an echo (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#40381669)

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.

The Chinese like pyramids, too. (1)

Quadraginta (902985) | about 2 years ago | (#40381895)

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-olds are just...the mutterings of wreckers, evil propaganda from jealous foreign devils, et cetera.

I would like to say the retreat of the United States in the 1970s from building Pyramids -- big showy Ozymandias looky look projects -- was a sign of social health, and perhaps it was. It may have been that Nixon and Reagan (ignoring the brief and futile interludes of Ford and Carter) rationally turned away from gargantua, and thereby turned loose American ingenuity, technological talent and tech-oriented capital to give us the computing revolution of the 80s and 90s. If I had to choose, I would take the Internet, Unix, and GPS-enabled smartphones over a base on the Moon supplied, at enormous cost, by an aging fleet of Saturn Vs. And it is possible that we did have to choose -- that there was only so much technological talent and capital available in 1976, and if it went into a robust rockets to the Moon program it would not have been available elsewhere.

Re:The Chinese like pyramids, too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382025)

The Chinese are fascinated by Eiffel towers for some strange reason. These metal structures are on a lot of tall buildings as gigantic lightening rods. I even spotted one on their rocket launch tower.

Re:The Chinese like pyramids, too. (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40382145)

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
 

SpaceXXX (0)

Nipun (2666139) | about 2 years ago | (#40381677)

China sends its first female astronaut to space. Now they wont hire people from mainland china for future missions. Before SpaceX reads this, they might also make a human chain from beijing to the moon.

Number of years don't matter (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Number of years don't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382017)

...while the development of the US is in decline.

...it seems there's a limited stock of stupid people to fool out of their money in this world.

China wants to pass the US (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | about 2 years ago | (#40381815)

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

Not so behind (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381845)

SpaceX have the Dragon capsule. Big elbow have the inflatable Genesis modules based on the NASA Transhab design. Declare the Drgon as man-rated, dock the two (or rather, dock with the BA 300, the Genesis do not have the correct airlocks), and private companies are on a level with China and at a significantly lower cost

shanghai shunky stone crusher (-1)

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cheap products online (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381851)

We wholesale cheap hats [cheaphatscn.com]suppliers 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 of cheap hats [cheaphatscn.com]market.

Motivation is a funny thing (1)

englishstudent (1638477) | about 2 years ago | (#40381911)

I'd rather an emotion other than fear drove us to space, but if that's what it takes then that is what it takes.

US dick waving contest again? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381925)

Why do the USians always need to be in front or behind somebody? Do they even consider any reasons for space exploration and science other than to race with someone?

Whats next? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40381947)

China is a done deal since they have the technology (may be stole some of it), but I wonder what will happen when Iran gets into the space race!

Space Worms (viruses, trojans, etc...) for their navigation systems or shooting them down with a small artificial asteroid or space junk?

US heading to the past (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40382135)

with its creationism, rejection of science and education, whilst China looks forward. We know how successful the Middle Age rocket scientist were on getting a man to Mars.

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