Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Chinese Going to the Moon?

In the recent months there has been much talk of the Chinese's ability and acheivment putting a total of three people into space. This has even allowed the paranoid to talk of "instability" and "balance of power" with the Chinese and even a "Chinese hegemon" overtaking the United States. It has also allowed those envious of the United States position in the world to gleefully speak of the United States' demise. While I admit, I do not know what will happen, I will venture out on a limb and say that China will not threaten the United States becaues their situation is so delicate. However, I do want to touch on the possiblility of China sending a manned mission to the moon by 2020.

I don't think they will make it. Let me explain:

The technological skill required to get into space is tremendous, yet the skill involved in going to the moon, I would say is probably tenfold. While all you really need is math, some pretty cool hardware, and a lot of stuff that goes "boom!", getting to the moon is actually more difficult than it seems. The science isn't hard. We can all calculate or have the computers calculate launch window, inclinations, transluner insertion, and lunar orbital insertion required to get a spacecraft in orbit around the moon. However, actually landing on it is where all the hardware and talent come in.

In the U.S. space program, all the early astronauts had to be graduates of test pilot school and have over 2,000 hours flight time. Plus they had to meet a myriad of other qualifications (read The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe) to find out more. Yet, this is the key--they were all test pilots. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were test pilots. They were used to the hair-pin, seat-of-your-pants flying knowing that at any moment disaster could strike, and with it, death. And it was something that they all found fun.

So, when Neil and Buzz were landing on the moon, Neil noticed that the predetermined landing site was rocky and unsuitable for landing. He took control and steered the craft to a safe landing on the moon, using the same seat-of-your-pants skills that he learned as a test pilot. He brought it down with 30 seconds of fuel left and Mission Control Houston breathed again. But this was the breed and the enginuity with which we went to the moon--because we could. We were not the originators of spaceflight but through our quality control were able to produce a product that worked successfully. The Russians could not.

The Chinese have a similar problem. They are good at copying things. Real good. Ask about the Buick copies made in China. But they have nothing original to offer nor no test pilot experience to fall back on. They might be able to design the machine, do the math, and get there people in an orbit around the moon, but I do not believe that they have the ability and the technical know-how nor the simple experience to but a Chinese on the moon. Their show of space power is simply to keep the U.S. guessing. We have to keep the Chinese and all out enemies on the defensive and not allow them any time to jeopardize our national security.

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