Space and Silliness

I’d like to take a little time today to post on what is perhaps my least-linked post in some time, if not ever. This post at Space Politics about the interestingly backwards position of most Republicans to the new space plan contains a line that I think bears some analysis. Specifically, this one:

“[The Republicans] believe that ‘pressing matters of national security also call for a continued U.S. government presence in space’; in particular, they’re concerned about efforts by other nations, in particular China, ‘to weaponize space and seize a strategic position on the moon.'”

Now, regardless of what you think about the overall content of the statement, I want to direct your attention to that last line.

“…to weaponize space and seize a strategic position on the moon.”

Doesn’t that just sound like something straight out of a mid-century pulp comic book? The Red’s are making a secret Commie Moon base and they’re going to be watching over us!

Well, silly as it sounds, the idea is nothing like science fiction. Or rather, like all good science fiction, it has evolved into the potential for science fact.

Space–and the Moon–are extremely important, but not just because the future of our species depends on it for resources and living space. One means of tracking history–and technological progress specifically–is by tracking how civilizations make war. Spears, arrows, guns, tanks, planes–why not spaceships?

And preventing another country from gaining the high ground has almost always been a sound tactical objective. Why not in space? What higher ground could the Earth possess than the Moon, generally speaking?

And we can go there–as in, humanity can. We did it in 1969-1972; what makes anyone think the Chinese couldn’t do the same in the next five years if they wanted? They’ve already got most of the preliminary steps out of the way.

And if you think the Chinese aren’t posturing for their place on the global stage, trying to challenge the United States in their own way by using space, well, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.

So, as some think, we’ll ramp up space exploration and return to the Moon and such once China sets a human boot on the lunar surface. I don’t want it to come to that, unless we have some really, really clever lobbyists in Washington who can take that momentary flags-and-footprints mentality that will no doubt grip the nation and turn it into something perpetual…without taking us to war with China in the process.

My point of all this is, even if talking about bases on the Moon and suchlike sounds silly, it’s not. It’s real, and important, and we would all do well to remember that.

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4 Responses to Space and Silliness

  1. mike shupp says:

    For the sake of the argument, China’s economy has grown 7-10% a year for the last several decades and the US economy has grown on average about 2.5% a year for several centuries. The US is richer overall and much richer on a per capita basis (perhaps 10 times more). Assuming trends continue, around 2050 China’s GNP will be comparable to that of the USA, and around 2070 individual Chinese will be as rich as individual Americans,

    From say 2040 on, the Chinese will be able to afford a space program the size the US now runs, and not long after that they could easily have a space program larger than anything we can afford. If they wish to take over the Moon at that point, they’ll be able to do so well before we can gear up a competing program.

    OTOH, a China so rich and advanced is going to present the US with many other problems. It’ll swamp our high-tech exports. It’ll be outbidding us for the Middle East oil and gas essential to our economy. It’ll be reaping the tourist dollars NYC and Disneyland now pull in. Its movies will be filling world theaters, rather than Hollywood’s. Automobiles made there will be bumper to bumper on American highways, and Americans who ride subways will do so in trains “Made in China.” Our medicines will be made there, as well as our shoes and computers. We’ll be reading Chinese novelists and attending concerts of Chinese music and learning the subtleties of Chinese art. Our kids will be learning to speak Chinese in school and majoring in Chinese history and philosophy when they reach universities. The Chinese will have first place in UN debates, and lead development programs in nations the Chinese select, while neglecting others. The Chinese will set the pattern for trade negotiations and future economic bailouts. And the Chinese will be deciding what objectives the human race should pursue in space, and the world — including the USA — will follow along willy-nilly.

    Not that all of this is bad, nor that every whit of it is inevitable. But the notion that our primary peril arises from Chinese moon bases is overstated.

  2. Oh, certainly. I don’t want to imply that I think space travel is the only issue in the world today, even from China. I’m just trying to approach the mission of returning human beings to the moon specifically is a real matter. The aforementioned line just got me thinking of how pulp fiction-y that sounded, and I wanted to make the point that the moon holds strategic advantages–even if they’re just psychological–as well as resource-based ones.

    As for Chinese dominance on the world stage, well, I wouldn’t be too happy about that, personally, if on for–at the very, very least–its effects on space travel.

    For example:
    http://www.homerhickam.com/cgi-bin/blog.cgi?id=42

    Not to say it’s a particularly likely view of the future, but as a bit of a hyperbole of a worst-case scenario, I think it has a point.

  3. mike shupp says:

    Hickam’s little horror story isn’t at all likely; the US is quite capable of shooting off its tootsies without the assistance of outsiders. If I were writing the tale, in the later half of the 21st century the US would decide it wanted to reach Mars and launched a program which say produced three Mars expeditions over a 15-20 period, one or two of which involved landing humans who ran about Apollo-style grabbing samples and deploying cute little robot rovers. Meanwhile, China would have spent 20 years building a lunar base from say 4 people to 400, steadily making it more and more self sufficient. with the assistance of Europeans and Japanese and other folk. We’d be slapping ourselves on our back and boasting about our Leadership; the Chinese would be making polite speeches about internationalism and slapping up British, Japanese, French, Indonesian, and Indian flags at every entrance to Golden Progress City and accepting small handfuls of immigrants from around the world, while drawing up plans for future settlements. Given such a scenario, which nation would be running the solar system in the 22nd century?

    Oh well, thanks for the oppoortunity to sound off a bit.

    • Um. The Chinese? I’m not sure of your implications. At the least, the moon base is a real viable step towards becoming an interplanetary species, whereas a few Mars landings really aren’t.

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