Sunday, September 23, 2007

Will China Beat Us Back to the Moon? Probably

In the opinion of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, China will likely beat us back to the moon. I agree with him, but for more reasons than he gave in the linked speech. I have no doubt that China has a more comprehensive moon program than we do, but I think it has another advantage over us: China's program does not have an inordinate fear of accidents.

That's not to say a haphazard space program is a better space program. Quite the contrary. A diligent, well thought out program will have more success over the long run than a haphazard, unsafe program, and to a certain extent that was played out during the US-USSR 'space race'. We have developed accident paralysis in our space program, though. There is zero tolerance for accidents and deaths in our space program today, and that makes our program slow, cautious, and at times it almost completely shuts down our manned space program. China does not have that same accident paralysis. If they have an accident as they make their way to the moon, they'll dust off and move forward, and that benefits them because there has been no frontier opened by humans that has not come at a human cost. Because of that, I think we'll see China on the moon long before our program makes very much progress at all.

I'm a big supporter of a vibrant US manned space program because there will be huge economic and, with China's entry into space, military benefits to a more permanent human presence in space. I'm increasingly convinced that because of our space program's proclivity to accident paralysis, we are going to have to rely on a fledgling commercial space program to compete with China.

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