China Moon *
Major General John K. Singlaub, USA (ret.)**
Thomas R. Spencer***
As the Space Shuttle touched down, for the very last time in Florida on July 21, 2011, one could almost hear the China National Space Administration rolling out the tea cart in celebration in Bejing. Vodka shots were flowing in Moscow. The spectacular U.S. manned space program which had developed and shared with the world innovative and inspiring systems of science, training and human space transport was abruptly ended by specific Presidential fiat. The doors were closed, lights turned off, Shuttles shipped to museums, experienced engineers fired, systems terminated and program closed. Over 6,000 of America’s best and brightest were abruptly jobless— rewarded with but a glittering Resolution of the United States Senate. On the same day, the Russian space agency announced “ from today, the era of the Soyuz has started in manned space flight, the era of reliability.”
Incredibly, the United States voluntarily terminated its only human space lift capacity without a replacement, now totally dependent on the good will of the testy Russians for rides on the Soyuz to the International Space Station. Of course, Russian good will comes with an enormous price per ride—$55,800,000, a price which doubled after President Obama cancelled America’s manned space program. And recently an unmanned Soyuz lost control and crashed, forcing the Russians to ground all Soyuz until at least November, 2011. Now stripped of any delivery capacity, the USA waits on the ground with the Russians. We cannot reach the space station. Moreover, American Astronauts are all now required to speak Russian. But to President Obama, who personally made this monstrously wrong decision, the U.S., the Chinese, the Russians, the European Union. and the Muslim World are all space brothers, who are bound together in a spirit of international understanding and cooperation.
President Obama also torpedoed the Constellation Lunar program, astonishingly deciding that the U.S. will not send men back to the moon. “We’ve been there before,” Obama said last year. In his new NASA policy, he stated that we will instead send astronauts to land on an asteroid by 2025 and ultimately to Mars. Only American robots will go to the Moon. No specific plans for our space program were announced in this radical change, just aspirational goals seeking more international cooperation, including an invitation to the Chinese to land on Mars with us. Obama ordered that only private industry will develop our manned space program. NASA is providing three companies with $270,000,000 in federal funds to continue to develop spacecraft to ferry cargo and crew to the space station. One private company’s initial lift-off exploded on takeoff in September, 2011. Obama also ordered NASA to reach out to the Muslim World, celebrating its historic contribution to science, math, and engineering. In late September, NASA launched two probes to the moon, to measure its specific gravity and to learn more about its interior.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are quite busy. The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program consists of robotic and human missions to the Moon. The Chinese are now mapping every centimeter of the Moon’s surface with orbiting vehicles. In 2012, the Chinese will land Lunar Rovers, prospecting for strategic minerals. Dr. Ziyuan, a prominent Chinese geologist and chief lunar program scientist advocates the exploitation not only of known lunar reserves of base metals, but also of lunar helium-3, an ideal fuel for nuclear fusion power plants. The Chinese aim to land men on the Moon by 2025, cooperating with the Russians in a joint lunar exploration agreement to be announced by the end of this year.
Of course, we are helping the Chinese as well. The United States is flooded with bright, disciplined young Chinese students and scientists, studying every aspect of our science and our systems in major universities, research laboratories, and private industry. And our President has not raised his voice about the burgeoning number of espionage cases (11 in 2010 alone) and the wanton China-based CyberWar being waged against us.
The Chinese have a vastly different view than the Obama vision of an international brotherhood of space. This year, a boxcar-sized module will be blasted into orbit, the first building block of the China space station and a well-funded, well thought out, long term space industry. Our International Space Station will be de-orbited right around the same time, 2020, when China will man its own Space Station. Professor He Qisong, a professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law recently observed: “ It is a sign of the national spirit for China to develop a space program and therefore it is of great significance for China.” That national spirit also motivated the Chinese to recently fire ground-based missiles into one of its dead satellites for practice, research—and of course— subtle messaging. In fact, intelligence analysts have observed that the space program has an added benefit to the Chinese of sharpening their missile launch and targeting skills.
So it does appear that China will be the only nation with men roaming around on the Moon. It also appears to have gone unnoticed at the White House that the Chinese tend to be viciously territorial. Indeed, China is rapidly building a huge blue water navy, perhaps just to back up its national spirit. But perhaps also to enforce its claim to rich oil fields in the South China Sea. China has gotten more than a little physical with Vietnam and the Philippines, whose claims the U.S. supports. Last month, China angrily warned the U.S. to stay out of the dispute. The Vice Foreign Minister, Cui Tianki, told reporters gathered at the Ministry: “ I believe the individual countries are actually playing with fire, and I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States.” The Pentagon recently reported to Congress that China has rapidly ramped up its development and deployment of military technology, including a very sophisticated fighter aircraft. And it recently celebrated the deployment of a new, state of the art aircraft carrier.
As former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said when Obama shocked the space-faring world, the decision to deliberately give up American leadership in Space, one of the few government programs that Americans can look to with pride, is “bizarre.” Griffin testified to the House Committee on Space: “ when China can reach the Moon and we cannot, I don’t see why any other nation would regard us as a world leader.”The Senate Commerce Committee wants to know specifics about NASA’s exploration plans and the facts concerning the delayed Space Launch System. NASA has stone-walled the Committee. Now subpoenas are flying instead of American astronauts in American machines. An amazed American Astronaut Gene Cernan, who actually walked on the moon, told Congress; “ Get the Shuttle out of the Garage…it’s in the prime of its life. How could we just put it away?”
So at the next full moon, look up in the wonderment that this heavenly partner of ours inspires. Wonder why we have intentionally abandoned our leadership place to now be only guests of another nation. Wonder whether, when the flag of China is planted on the Moon, followed by squadrons of Chinese astronauts, miners, scientists and manufacturing plants, our children will be left with only dusty memories of American greatness. Wonder whether the Chinese will be our space brothers then.
* published October 2011 in America's Future (Sept/Oct 2011 Edition)
**Singlaub is a highly decorated retired Army General, OSS Officer, CIA station chief in Manchuria, China, and Chief of Staff of U.S. Forces, South Korea.
*** Spencer is an international lawyer, practicing in Miami and Washington, D.C.