Author Topic: China Sending Manned Missions to the Moon  (Read 1908 times)


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China Sending Manned Missions to the Moon
« on: July 20, 2019, 03:19:05 AM »
50 Years After Apollo 11, China Is on Deck to Land Next | The Diplomat - July 19, 2019

Almost precisely 50 years ago, people around the world huddled by their television sets to witness the first humans walk on the moon. The broadcast came live, save for a two-second delay. Unsurprisingly, the occasion is being marked by much fanfare this year; no fewer than 10 documentaries will soon air to commemorate the Apollo 11 semicentennial.

Tributes to Apollo 11 only slightly overshadow headlines this year that China, too, had accomplished its own lunar “first” by landing a robotic rover on the far side of the moon. Writing for the Washington Post, foreign correspondent Rick Noack proclaimed that “a new space power [had been] born” as a result. The Chinese space program shows no indications of slowing: Beijing recently alluded that it hopes to begin sending manned missions to the moon by 2030, prompting the Trump administration to announce plans for a 2024 return. The politics involve a mix of prestige and security concerns. Because space technologies can often be repurposed for military ends, and because those technologies are often difficult to distinguish from peaceful ones, U.S. defense planners also worry about growing Chinese capabilities.

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Americans take immeasurable pride in their national space accomplishments. But something about the mastery of space flight — and perhaps especially the quest for the moon — seems to know no national borders. The confusion and panic of the Sputnik era gradually gave way to formal U.S.-Russian space cooperation during the Cold War, culminating in the landmark Outer Space Treaty, numerous joint space station ventures, and ultimately, NASA’s total reliance on Russian Soyuz rockets to convey its astronauts into orbit. Yet Washington’s stance toward China’s peaceful space activity is counterintuitively more cautious, and in 2011, Congress passed a bill that bans NASA from cooperating with China on any joint scientific project.

On the one hand, space programs are really, really expensive. On the other, the evidence suggests that other states’ successes have the potential to bridge divides by building mutual respect, even when tensions run hot. Space cooperation is likely to be a popular policy: the media reports on it favorably; it resonates with the public; and it permits cost-sharing schemes that can help reduce strain on the budget. More importantly for national security hawks, closer scientific ties can help mollify fears about covert efforts to weaponize sensitive technologies. As the U.S. and China approach parity in space, joint collaboration could function like an inspection and verification system, better positioning each side to reassure the other that sensitive dual-use technologies aren’t being repurposed for malicious ends.

None of this is to suggest that the two countries’ interests are totally aligned. But at a time when the political ambivalence between Washington and Beijing is once again waxing rather than waning, cautious cooperation in space exploration may be a useful — and politically expedient — way to lift the tension.