Page 2 of 2 Obama doesn't hand China the moon
By Peter J Brown
"If the plan survives the congressional gauntlet of hearings, markups,
amendments and votes in anything like its present form, it will mark a radical
transformation of the agency. Gone would be the emphasis on the development and
operations of launch vehicles and spacecraft, focused on traveling to specific
destinations. In its place would be the development of capabilities and
technologies needed for future exploration to a variety of destinations, while
also supporting the development of a commercial infrastructure to handle more
routine operations," wrote Foust in a recent column. 
As this radical space culture shift unfolds in the US, China has to prepare for
a number of critical manned missions over the next five
years if it is to successfully maintain its fragile timetable for a manned
lunar landing, at least by 2022.
According to Tkacik, this will be topped off by China's synchronized launch of
at least four very large Long March 5 rockets over a span of two weeks from
China's new Wenchang Space Center on the South China Sea island of Hainan. This
sequence is necessary to enable complex "Earth orbit rendezvous" maneuvers,
part of the initial phase of China's first manned flight to the moon.
"The four Long March 5s will each loft 26-ton payloads into low Earth orbits.
The first mission will orbit the rocket for the trans-lunar journey which will
then join a second payload of an empty lunar module (LM) and its lunar-orbit
rocket motor. Those first two unmanned payloads will rendezvous in Earth orbit
and then fire off for the quarter-million-mile journey to the moon," wrote
Tkacik. "Once the unmanned LM is in a stable lunar orbit, the second pair of
missions will be launched into Earth's orbit; the first with another
trans-lunar rocket motor and the second with a combined payload comprising the
lunar orbiting module, a modified service module, an Earth re-entry module and
the manned Shenzhou capsule with three Chinese cosmonauts."
This will be a wonder to behold, and China is indeed moving ahead at a rapid
pace, but construction of the new space center on Hainan is just getting
underway, and the Long March 5 - still on the drawing board - must sit idle
until work is completed on Hainan.
Critics of Obama's NASA decision, well, tend to exaggerate. At one point,
Tkacik did so, too.
"By 2008, Chinese astronauts were taking space walks and buzzing tiny 'BX-1'
nano-satellites around their space capsules, a technology that puts them on the
cutting edge of 'space situational awareness' that America's military space
assets still lack," wrote Tkacik.
In fact, there was only one nano-satellite, and only one space capsule. Compare
and contrast that to the US space program which has conducted so many manned
let alone unmanned space flights that space shuttle launches even when aired
live on the NASA TV channel - available in millions of American households -
often go unnoticed by the vast majority of the American public. This is not
because they are boring or unimportant, but because they are so routine and so
Appearing recently on the PBS Newshour, Bretton Alexander, president of the
Commercial Spaceflight Federation, spoke in favor of Obama's decision and
stated, "This is a long-overdue change for NASA. It's a paradigm shift away
from government being the only ones that can do human spaceflight."
"We don't let the government do our healthcare. We don't let the government fly
our airlines. And, so, the government isn't the only one that can do human
spaceflight," said Alexander.
"The Augustine committee pointed out that they would require at least $50
billion more over the next 10 years in order to get back to the moon. And then
we would get there about a decade late. And the problem with that is that it
was unsustainable. It was a monolithic program. All the money was going into
one massive effort. And I believe that it collapsed under its own weight." 
In their joint statement issued last November, Obama and Chinese President Hu
Jintao called for "a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration,
based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit".
In his conclusion, Tkacik stated, "Judging from the past behavior of China's
state-owned aerospace firms, especially in their unseemly eagerness to
proliferate ballistic missile technology to rogue states, it is unlikely that
Obama can count on much 'cooperation' with China in space - except on China's
This is exactly why the rise of the US private space sector is so vital and so
timely. While critics shake their heads, US engineers and entrepreneurs are
heading at full steam in a direction that China cannot follow, not under the
current rules anyway. With international partners in abundance including the
space programs in Canada, Japan, Europe and India along with other countries,
the US space program is preparing for the future in a very dynamic fashion
rather than self-destructing.
China has its space partners too, but most of these countries are leaving their
doors open and remaining quite friendly to other space-faring nations for
obvious reasons. US conservatives seem eager to portray the situation in a dark
light as if China as about to stage a space coup with a compliant Russia in its
corner. This attitude, and the notion that Obama's decision undermines national
security and that long established safety measures are about to be compromised
need to be put aside.
"The Chinese certainly are working on a full spectrum of space capabilities.
The US has chosen in the past to focus on the military aspects of space rather
than exploration, and on competition rather than cooperation," said
Johnson-Freese. "The Obama administration has realistically tried to deal with
goals and the budget - developing a strategy where those are aligned - and
where cooperation has a role as well as competition. The US can still 'lead' in
space. Its space budget still exceeds those of other countries. The US simply
has faced the realities of the budget, and of a globalized world where
countries have little choice other than to work together, or be excluded."