Dec 23 2013

The Meaning of China’s New Moon

Published by at 11:58 pm under Wave Guide 5: International Space

Could the 21st Century shape up to be China’s on the Moon … and even — if the U.S. allows it — here on Earth?

On December 14 China took “one giant step,” to quote Neil Armstrong (44 years earlier) in that direction by soft-landing Chang’e 3 and successfully deploying the “Jade Rabbit” rover on the Moon’s surface.

This is a great achievement that could lead to Chinese astronauts on the Moon by the 2020s, and clearly signals our rapid approach to the next 1960s-style Maslow Window and the new International Space Age.

China’s new rover on the Moon is farther away than the Senkaku Islands, but is its geopolitical meaning the same?

For historical perspective, Russia achieved the first soft landing on the Moon in January 1966 (Luna 9). And the first manned landing on the Moon was by the U.S. in July 1969 (Apollo 11) followed by 5 more (3 w rovers), with the last coming in December 1972.

Significantly, the most recent soft landing on the Moon was by Russia in August 1976. Thus China’s Moon triumph is the most recent gentle landing on the Moon in 37 years!

This 4-decade hiatus in human and robotic exploration on the lunar surface is apparently due to the Maslow Effect, involving multi-decade self organization of the international economic system into twice-per-century, transformative “critical states”.

Thus China becomes only the 3rd country in history to join the international Moon Club, as well as the 1st and only nation to do it (so far) in the 21st Century!

So…will China win the 21st Century Moon by default?

Many have noticed China’s success. For example, NASA planetary scientist and long-time major advocate of human missions to Mars, Chris McKay is now supporting a U.S. lunar base, mainly because without it we’ll be less able to influence future international plans for the Moon. Lunar and Planetary Institute scientist Paul Spudis agrees that the Chang’e-3 mission is about expanding China’s future options on the Moon, in this case by flight-testing a “new and potentially powerful lunar surface payload delivery system.”

Former NASA boss Mike Griffin believes that ISS-style international cooperation with China in a Moon base initiative is currently possible as long as the U.S. is “clearly ahead,” but this window will rapidly close as China’s space capabilities expand. Likewise, long-time NASA backer Rep. Frank Wolf (R), currently serving his 17th term in Congress, is retiring and has written President Obama asking for action regarding a “U.S.-led return to the Moon” in the next decade.

Unfortunately, the response of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is to say No to new “flagship missions” for NASA, “The budget doesn’t support that.”

Bolden’s absolutely right about the budget, but he neglects to focus on the connection between the budget and the current sluggish economy, and ultimately that’s the responsibility of his boss, President Obama.

And because Apollo-level initiatives since Lewis and Clark only occur during JFK-style economic booms, the question really is: How do we stimulate significant growth in the economy?

The formula’s been known for some time. President Kennedy used it with considerable success in the early 1960s to create the greatest boom in modern history and to support Apollo. Because of its importance, we’ll examine JFK’s stimulus program in the near future.

One more point about China’s new Moon: early leaks from China suggested a long-term program culminating in a Star Wars-style “death star” base on the Moon with significant offensive military potential.

Such hoopla is undoubtedly for internal consumption (in China), but military Moon bases are not without merit. For example, in 1984 Edward Teller extolled the virtues of a lunar base for continuous, secure surveillance of Earth. And George Friedman presents a dazzling future space war scenario featuring military bases on the Moon’s farside.
You can read more here; CLICK: The Geopolitics of a Moon Base

Did the folks in Beijing just remember to renew their subscription to Stratfor?

One response so far

One Response to “The Meaning of China’s New Moon”

  1. Paul Spudison 24 Dec 2013 at 3:31 am


    Nice piece — thanks. I would only comment that the real geopolitical threat is not necessarily from a military base on the Moon, but rather from China’s clear acquisition of the ability to routinely and freely move throughout cislunar space. The significance of that is that all of our national security assets (intelligence collection) and economic space assets (communications, weather, GPS, remote sensing etc.) reside here (almost all above LEO). The real significance of Chang’E 3 (and most especially Chang’E 2, which left lunar orbit, spent a year at Sun-Earth L-2 and then went into solar orbit, including a flyby of asteroid Toutatis) is that the Chinese have developed systems that permit access to ALL of cislunar, where our satellite assets reside. They have already shown their proclivity for anti-satellite activities.

    Those two developments should get people’s attention. It is serious and it is near-term, not long-term like a lunar base. Please have a look at one of my recent posts:

    Hi Paul,
    Couldn’t agree more; you paint a very clear picture. Thanks for your comment.

    Anyone who missed the significance of the 2007 successful ASAT test by China is either distracted or delusional; I also chatted about the “space dominance” aspect in The Geopolitics of a Moon Base.

    As historian Margaret MacMillan recently emphasized in her Brookings Essay, The Rhyme of history: Lessons of the Great War,

    History, said Mark Twain, never repeats itself but it rhymes … if we can see past our blinders and take note of the telling parallels between then and now … history does give us valuable warnings.

    The aggressive development of Chinese space and military capabilities “rhymes” with analogous events during the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s. If we view international economic, technology, and geopolitical developments as a large-scale complex system, a near-term 1960s-style “critical state” is to be expected.

    Best regards,

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