“…we were done with the moon, ANYWAY — STUPID MOON!”
— Jon Stewart
In a spot from The Daily Show four years ago, Jon Stewart pokes fun at the fact that India found water on the Moon, that the United States missed in the last forty years of exploration. “Billions of gallons of it.”
Jon Stewart: “…I didn’t know NASA had a base in India!”
Aasif Mandvi: “THEY DON’T! This is the Indian Space Research Organization!”
Parody aside, the latest space news is that the People’s Republic of China, the rising super-power directly challenging the United States’ unchallenged military presence on, above or AROUND the world, is now setting it’s sights on a lunar landing.
Launching its own [uninhabited] test space station, designated Tiangong 1 (Heavenly Palace 1) in 2011, the Tiangong Space Program is China’s attempt to place a large, modular space station in orbit by the beginning of the next decade. From here, Chinese cosmonauts can conduct their own research and development, as well as support it’s own lunar program, free from the stranglehold the United States and it’s allies has had on Space for the last half-century.
China may be coming to space-faring late, compared to the United States, Russia and India, however, let’s look at the current setups: The United States has a minimal space program, with NO current flight ability of it’s own. Astronauts/Cosmonauts from the United States require the use of launch vehicles and equipment from the Russian Federation (and to a limited point, at this time, private companies such as SpaceX) to reach, resupply or restaff its interests aboard the International Space Station. Indeed, another sign of the times is the massive cut NASA took from the President’s pen, through Congress, in appropriations. The Space Shuttle was retired. The successor to the Space Shuttle, the Apollo-inspired Project Constellation, was cancelled, leaving the United States military and government’s ability to reach out to the stars in limbo for the foreseeable future.
Indeed, this was echoed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “NASA is not going to the Moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime,” he stated.
However, he continued: “…and the reason is, we can only do so many things,”
While he didn’t specifically elaborate, it’s possible that NASA’s future plans could lie elsewhere — specifically, landings on asteroids, or even Mars, in relatively short order.
While the cancellation of the Constellation Project puts a American landing on Mars anytime soon in question, as Orion was designed with the intention of being capable of travelling to both the Moon AND to Mars, will American innovation and the memories of the Space Race of the 1960s embolden American spirit in an even broader space race?