Cultural Revolutions

A Serious Competitor

China’s first manned space mission should serve as a warning that Beijing is serious about becoming a “peer competitor” of the United States.  Some commentators mocked the Chinese effort as being far behind the achievements of the U.S. space program.  Yet no other country—not even the supposedly more advanced Japan nor any European state—has accomplished this feat.  Each has lacked the ambition needed to commit vital resources to such a program.

The U.S. space program has been crippled since the loss of Columbia last February.  The space shuttles were designed in the 1970’s, and Columbia first flew in 1981.  Her onboard technology had been surpassed by what is available to teenagers in their video-game systems, and her engines and structural features were outdated.  The technology now available to China could close the gap in capabilities very quickly.  China is considering a manned space station and trips to the moon within the decade.

The last U.S. moon landing was in 1972.  The space-station project has moved at a snail’s pace because of a general lack of interest in Washington.  The stirring visions of giant space stations, commercial shuttle flights, and extensive moon bases in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey have become a sad testimony to three decades of missed opportunities.  The United States...

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