News / Science & Technology

Analysts Say China Poised to Become Leader in Space

Multimedia

Audio

More than four decades ago, the United States won the race to the Moon with the Soviet Union.  But today, experts say changes to the U.S. policy could open the door for new leaders in space.

Astronauts on board the U.S. space shuttle Discovery returned to Earth this week amid major changes for America's space program.

President Barack Obama is calling on private companies, not the national space agency NASA, to carry astronauts into orbit.  His plan also ends a government program to return to the Moon.

"Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a [manned] return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned," said Mr. Obama.  "But I just have to say pretty bluntly here:  We've been there before."

But, other countries have not. Critics of Mr. Obama's plan say not returning to the Moon could jeopardize America's leadership in space exploration.

"So what happens when China is able to do that, and worse, what happens when the United States may not be able to for quite a while?," said Dean Cheng, an expert on Chinese political and security affairs at The Heritage Foundation here in Washington.

"There isn't a direct threat at work here.  People aren't talking about setting up Moon bases and throwing rocks at Earth, for example," he said. "But what it is, is it's a matter of national morale, national psyche, and a statement about where each country is on the technological development side."

Chaina's emerging role

China became a member of an elite club when astronaut Yang Liwei flew into space in 2003.  Four years later, Beijing surprised many around the world when it successfully shot down a satellite.  China plans to send a robotic rover to the lunar surface in 2012.  And next year, the country is launching a small space lab to practice docking in orbit - an essential part of manned missions to the Moon and beyond.

Joan Johnson-Freese of the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island says that even without a manned Moon mission, the U.S. still will be the biggest player in space.  

"The United States spends $16 billion or more annually on human space flight.  It spends over $20 billion just on unclassified military space programs. China spends about $2 billion annually," said Johnson-Freese.

But she says Beijing's space program has launched China into a new geo-political level. "China is only the third country to have human space flight capabilities [after the United States and Russia].  That inherently projects the image of it being the regional technology leader," said Johnson-Freese.

Historian Jeffery Wassertstrom at the University of California, Irvine, says China is trying to reclaim the powerful status it held hundreds of years ago. "China, after having been one of the world's strongest and most developed countries, went through a period of relative decline and relatively being pushed around by other countries." he said.

Money, alliances

Beijing's space program also serves more practical interests like raising cash and making alliances. China has sold satellites to Venezuela and Nigeria, and plans to build a $300 million satellite for Bolivia.

"So it's no accident that Venezuela and Nigeria, of course, both have oil.  And Bolivia, interestingly, is one of the world's largest sources of lithium, which if you think we're all going to drive electric cars, is going to be a vital source," said Analyst Dean Cheng of The Heritage Foundation.

Deals like these are public, but most of China's space program is not. Cheng says that secrecy makes some U.S. officials nervous. "Much of the [Chinese] space infrastructure, for example, is managed by the People's Liberation Army," he said. "So there's a military component there.  Also, in the post-Cold War conflicts the U.S. has been involved in, no enemy has ever had space capabilities."

Cheng says that could change as Beijing sells space technology to more countries.

Analysts say a lack of trust between Beijing and Washington has limited cooperation in space.  But analyst Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College says there are national security reasons to rethink that policy. "We would have a much better idea of what the Chinese are doing - how much technology they have and how much they have access to," she said.

But even if Washington offers to work with Beijing, Johnson-Freese says China might not accept the invitation.  She says like the United States in the 1960s, China's space program is as much about prestige on Earth as it is about exploration in space.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid