Monday, December 23, 2013

Does China's Moon Landing Matter?

“Does China’s Moon Landing Matter?” was the title of a clip on Fox News as a panel of faux space experts bandied about the rhetorical question for around three minutes before coming up with a totally inane conclusion, obvious and not worth repeating here.

Vacuous drivel was not the way others regarded this event. “This is a very big deal indeed,” says lunar scientist Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “Landing on the moon is not something easily attained—it requires precision maneuvering, tracking, computation and engineering. It is a delicate task and the Chinese success reflects a mature, evolving and capable program.”

After two fly-by missions to the moon, China was successful on its first attempt for a soft landing on the moon surface. They then launched the rover from the lander to roam and explore a part of moon that had not been visited by the Russians or Americans, predecessors who have also landed on the moon., the website that focuses on all matters relating to space exploration, listed China’s Chang’e-3 mission as the latest on the list of most marvelous moon missions from human kind.

"This is a great day for lunar science and exploration, with the first successful soft landing on the surface of the Moon since the Soviet Union did it in 1976," said Clive Neal, a leading lunar scientist from University of Notre Dame.

Not everyone was as effusive. The New Zealand’s Conservative Party leader, Colin Craig, joined the inevitable chorus of conspiracy doubters and publicly questioned whether the moon landing really took place.

While most of world sent their congratulatory messages to Beijing, NASA was conspicuously quiet. "What we have here is a situation where politics is certainly inhibiting good scientific cooperation and discovery because the NASA mission people are not allowed to communicate bilaterally with their Chinese counterparts," Neal said.

Congressman Frank Wolf has been the direct cause for NASA’s silence. Wolf is well known for his rabid anti China posture and because he chairs the House committee with funding authority over NASA, he runs NASA as if the agency is his personal fiefdom. (He also practiced vicious racial profiling against ethnic Chinese that worked as NASA contractors.) He enacted into law in 2011 that specifically forbad NASA from any contact with China’s counterparts, much less any semblance of joint cooperation.

Wolf’s “activism” has turned what should have been a platform for international scientific cooperation into another petty issue of politics. Even Russia and the U.S., heretofore rivals in the space race, have been able to conduct joint space research in the International Space Station, but China was specifically not invited to be among the 14 member nations.

However, instead of China on the outside looking in, soon it will be other nations looking to be invited by China to participate in their explorations. Both the US and Russia are cutting back their financial commitment for space research just when China has plans firmly in place to move forward.

Already, the European Space Agency has become a partner of China’s space agency by providing their deep space tracking stations to track and help monitor Chang'e 3’s lunar descent.  When Chang’e landing succeeded, the crew at Darmstadt Germany broke out in celebration along with their colleagues in Beijing.

Just about the only other nation contemplating an on-going space exploration program is India. On paper, India will put a man on the moon by 2020, about 4 years ahead of China. But that’s on paper, China has already accomplished landing an unmanned spacecraft and dispatching a rover while nada for India. 

After Beijing successfully staged the 2008 Olympics, India aspired to do the same kind of hosting with the 2010 Commonwealth Games, except the outcome became a scandal ridden embarrassment. Some of the vendors even had trouble getting their equipment out of India as the organizers wanted to hold on to scoreboards and other appliances of value for ransom.

Going forward, whether India will deliver remains to be seen but certainly China will continue to ignite the earthling’s imagination as they continue their program for space exploration. What we won’t remember will be the buffoons on Fox, or alleged national leader like Colin Craig of New Zealand and the obstructionist like Frank Wolf.

1 comment:

David Chai said...

Thanks for sharing the excitement that the world should recognize the importance of this scientific accomplishement. It is amazing that what is supposed to be the shining light of democracy, that one Congressman out of 435 can single-handedly obstruct the cooperation of plantary exploration between the US and China. Who knows, in the not too far in the future, we might need the Chinese astronauts to save our astronauts from a disaster in outer space. Then what ...?
David Chai