Jun 22 2008
SPECIAL NOTE: Thanks to political scientist Dr. Anny Wong for her contributions to this post.
A key issue for civilization is whether we’ll establish a significant, self-sufficient presence in space by 2025. If not, the last 200 years suggest that our next real opportunity won’t be until 2071. And by then, the world will be unpredictably different. So the 2015 Maslow Window is essentially our last forecastable shot at establishing a large-scale human presence in space.
Will China accelerate this process? The answer is ‘Yes’, and here are 10 reasons China is good for space:
10. China’s space program stretches back more than 35 years, suggesting that space will expand in importance because of the growing economic, technological, and scientific culture of the country. Responding to Sputnik in 1958, Mao Zedong asserted, “We too must build artificial satellites.” China’s first successful satellite launch was in 1970. Some of the earliest scientists involved in China’s space program were disillusioned Chinese Americans who found pride in the new China and were fed up with a glass ceiling in the U.S..
9. In manned space, China is already at the Mercury/Gemini stage. It’s first manned orbital mission was in 2003 and its 3rd is this October. With plans for a space station in hand, they’re right on schedule to play a major role in the spectacular 2015 Maslow Window.
8. China’s space infrastructure is among the most advanced in the world, and includes the development of the Long-March rocket systems, successfully entering the international commercial launch market in 1985, developing a variety of Chinese launch sites, and creating Chinese satellites for military, communications, weather, and space sciences. Plans for the Chinese manned space program began in 1985.
7. China’s very rapid economic growth hovers around 10% annually. This is very important internally to the Communist Party leaders, as well as to major export sources like Wal-Mart! It also provides the financial cornerstone for future Chinese technology and space initiatives.
6. China’s space program is very popular with the Chinese public which adds to program momentum as it bolsters Chinese nationalism, something the government leadership needs every now and then to make the public forget its faults — like major corruption, environmental problems, and huge economic disparities.
5. China has growing high-technology industries and international connections that can support future space initiatives. For example, in addition to information technology, China has made aerospace a top national priority in industrial development — so bet on China courting Boeing and all others to build their equipment there and groom human talent at the ground level.
4. China has gained international prestige from its space adventures. International prestige feeds domestic pride, but more importantly, it’s the additional weight it gives China in security and defense matters where international prestige really counts.
3. Energy-hungry China may decide to lead solar power satellite development. Facing $ trillions of energy infrastructure costs in the next 20 years, China may decide to develop this inexhaustible energy source that would reduce both environmental pollution and strategic tensions.
2. China and U.S. (and others) may form a Grand Space Alliance for the 2015 Maslow Window. If indeed we’re “less than 5 years from a new generation of Chinese leaders with whom a far stronger relationship may be built,” — see Thomas Barnett — new options are possible. With joint interests in global security, new energy sources, and the exploration of space, China and the U.S. may decide that a “Football Game” model is more productive than the previous Cold War space experience was. In an American professional football game there are rules, big money, great excitement, intense competition, and winners and losers, but at the end of the game both teams survive, learn, and remain friends; they also look forward to the next game on the schedule.
1. A less attractive option is that China (and partners) may stimulate the rapid development of space by challenging the U.S. in a Cold War-style confrontation, complete with a Sputnik-like event. Reason #2 (above) is basically a model of greatly expanded International Geophysical Year-style friendly cooperation. However, in 1957 it led to the surprise launch of Sputnik which shocked America and triggered the 1960s race to space between two very unfriendly countries.
As we draw closer to the 2015 Maslow Window it will become clearer which model of international space development — “Football Game” or “Cold War”– will occur.