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♫ For purple mountain majesties / [Several miles] Above the fruited [Chinese] plain! ♫
September 30, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Tiangong 1, [the] latest demonstration of Beijing's otherworldly ambitions comes in a year when the US has wound down its space shuttle fleet and its partners have said the International Space Station (previously) should be buried at sea in 2020. Perhaps in its honor, [s]trains of the famed American patriotic tune (America the Beautiful) rang out following the launch of the Tiang Gong-1 experimental space station module late Thursday night.

"America the Beautful" lyrics

A crash course in Chinese anti-American propaganda
posted by obscurator (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome, I thought Mefi was ignoring the heavenly palace...
posted by Tom-B at 8:53 AM on September 30, 2011


They've got it all wrong. America the Beutiful was played as a subtle riff on the secret spy satellite capabilities of the "science lab".
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:55 AM on September 30, 2011


Great example of goofy, unsophisticated Asian post-modernism. However, was this link even necessary? A crash course in Chinese anti-American propaganda

All of the posters are at least 40 years old.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 AM on September 30, 2011


Considering every space shuttle mission I remember included "...and oh, also a classified military project" among its cargo, I figure the Chinese can have some gimmes on catching up.
posted by rokusan at 8:59 AM on September 30, 2011


All of the posters are at least 40 years old

The more things change..the more etc.etc. Perhaps I should have linked to this.
posted by obscurator at 9:01 AM on September 30, 2011


Good for them. The best thing that could probably happen to the US space program right now would be for the Chinese to seriously threaten the perceived American dominance in manned spaceflight activities, and inspire some reallocation of defense resources back towards a second Space Race.

Can we get the talking heads on Fox or talk radio working on this?
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


inspire some reallocation of defense resources back towards a second Space Race.

I thought the same thing coming in here, but seeing it said out loud now I bet it should really read "inspire some reallocation of social program resources back towards the DoD, which would allocate them towards a second Space Race." Nobody ever tells anyone in the DoD they can't have something.
posted by DU at 9:18 AM on September 30, 2011


The video in question (SLCCTV)
posted by obscurator at 9:29 AM on September 30, 2011


The more things change..the more etc.etc. Perhaps I should have linked to this.

The Star Spangled Banner is all about fighting the British. The Marine Corps Hymn specifically mentions kicking Mexican and Libyan (Barbary/Ottomon) ass in the first two stanzas! Nas signed with Def Jam!

Clearly I think Americas feel one can sing songs about others and still be/become friends (or at least relatively cordial neighbors).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2011


and its partners have said the International Space Station (previously) should be buried at sea in 2020.

This is complete and utter bullshit, a misunderstanding of facts, plans and plain wording in a startling example of lazy journalism. Here's transcipt with Vitaly Davydov, deputy director of Russia's Federal Space Agency, pulled from an MSNBC article that was at least written by someone who passed Journalism 101:
Q: Concerning the International Space Station, what's its fate? How long will it exist?
A: For now we've agreed with our partners that the station will be used until around 2020.
Q: And how long was it due to last?
A: Originally, 15 years.
Q: It's already been 13 years.
A: It's been 13 years since 1998, but the station's potential is much greater. I recall that when we flew Mir, we also thought it wouldn't be around all that long, but it was in operation for 15 years. [The first part of Russia's Mir space station was launched in 1986, and the complex was deorbited in 2001.]
Q: And then what happens to the International Space Station?
A: After the station completes its existence, we will be forced to sink it. It cannot be left in orbit, it's too complex, it's too heavy an object. It can leave behind lots of junk.
Q: Then will we build a new one?
A: There are a few alternatives. Of course, it's possible that [another] station wouldn't be created, but that we'd immediately try to turn our attention to the moon, to Mars. ...
There's no unilateral plan by Russia to deorbit the ISS in 2020. However, there are plans and procedures to do so, just it case it has to happen then or at any other time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:20 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I don't doubt there is some anti-American sentiment among Chinese "netizens", and that China surely sees the US as a competitor (and potential threat), I'm pretty sure that Chinese folks, if they think about the US at all, like it as a brand.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:29 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


DU: I'm actually not totally convinced that would even be a bad thing. Hear me out:

Last night I was BSing with some fairly conservative acquaintances, who were going on and on about how broken the Federal government is, and how it basically needs to be taken out behind the woodshed and shot in the head, etc. Pretty typical stance, in my part of the world. (Trying to argue with these sort of people about why things are that way is completely useless; wrestling with a pig territory.) But everybody was simultaneously waxing poetic about the 'good old days,' when Americans used to "build things" and government was focused on "real projects." The Apollo program and the Erie canal were mentioned as examples. It got me thinking.

I'll admit to not having what amounts to a totally consistent theory down, but it seems that what exists in a large part of the US is a crisis of confidence in government. Arguably it's manufactured, but I'm not sure that matters; the point is that it looks suspiciously like a self-fulfilling death spiral once it gets going.

Short of some sort of techocrat coup, I don't think you can fix that without bringing the skeptical, disillusioned, "low information" electorate back into the pro-government camp. And if you want to do that, you need to do something spectacular. Maybe even a little crazy. You categorically cannot do it via social programs or healthcare, because insofar as those feel like charity or handouts, and many Americans are brought up to be very, very uncomfortable receiving anything that feels like charity, they'll take it but hate it the entire way. (Or better yet, to get over the feeling of accepting charity they'll tell themselves that they deserve it, and take it contemptuously. Don't expect gratitude.) You need something that people can turn on their TVs and watch, all at once, and say "that's my government doing something, right there."

You could do it, I think, with some sort of competitive race against an external enemy. (You could also do it -- and there's a long tradition of inspiring consensus -- with a war, a real existential-threat clash-of-industrial-nations one, but that's a bit tough to arrange these days, with nuclear weapons.) And that's why part of me is intensely pleased every time I see the Chinese getting closer to putting someone in space, and perhaps after that, on the Moon. Maybe when they do, we'll be able to scrape together enough of a semblance of national purpose to match them, or stick someone on Mars -- do something that will convince the sort of people I'll be eating Thanksgiving dinner with in a few weeks that the government isn't ready to be cut apart and sold for scrap.

If you can't do that, all the social programs, and probably the nation as a whole in the long haul, are doomed anyway. Nobody's going to pay taxes for programs that help people that they don't feel any connection to, and you build that connection by making everyone feel like they're on (or are at least cheering for) the same team.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


You could do it, I think, with some sort of competitive race against an external enemy.

If only Al-Qaeda had been more focused on putting the Koran on Mars!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:40 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Considering every space shuttle mission I remember included "...and oh, also a classified military project" among its cargo, I figure the Chinese can have some gimmes on catching up.

Actually, the all-DoD missions ended in 1992, and there have only been a handful of classified payloads since then. Congress directed the Pentagon to create its own dedicated, non-crewed launch capability following Challenger, which was somewhat ironic as that disaster was at least in part attributable to design decisions made when Congress -- back in the 1960s -- directed NASA and the USAF to merge their space plan proposals.

The vast majority of Shuttle missions since the FGB went up have been ISS module launch, logistical support, and crew rotation.

Anyway, most space nerds I know are cheering on the Chinese. They probably have much more prosaic goals with their platform, and will soon enough discover the limitations of orbital-based research themselves. (The ISS pretty much only got built as a form of post Cold War detente, and the Chinese don't have that motivation or inclination.)

And there's also the fact that people really interested in planetary science, like me, have always been torn by the romance of the human spaceflight program and its, uh, exorbitant cost.
posted by dhartung at 10:44 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The more things change..the more etc.etc.

It's clear that you're trying, in an extremely confused and oblique way, to make some kind of point about Chinese anti-Americanism, but whatever you imagine that point to be, nothing you're linking is actually supporting it.

China playing an American patriotic song at a space launch, the US government sanctioning a Chinese patriotic song being played at a function for Hu Jintao, you describing a set of generations-old propaganda posters (half of which are actually anti-Soviet) as "a crash course in Chinese anti-American propaganda": none of these things add up to say anything coherent about contemporary Chinese anti-Americanism, which certainly does exist, but in a form almost totally unrelated to the Korean War era agitprop you're digging up.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:53 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


And that's why part of me is intensely pleased every time I see the Chinese getting closer to putting someone in space

Shenzhou 5
posted by romanb at 10:53 AM on September 30, 2011


Shenzhou 5

I wonder if he had to lift weights to handle all that waving.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:02 AM on September 30, 2011


I am a space nerd, cheering for China and also the US: GO NEW HORIZONS! GO CURIOSITY!
posted by Tom-B at 11:03 AM on September 30, 2011


Here's the Wikipedia entry on Tiangong 1, which goes into it's details a bit more. Shenzhou 8 will make an unmanned revedevous with it later this year, then Shenzhou 9 and 10 will have manned docking.

The American equivalent was the Agena target vehicle, which was used during the Gemini program to practice docking and undocking. The Agena was always unmanned though, but often had astronauts doing a spacewalk over to it.

The Soviets did unmanned dockings first, then manned dockings between Soyuz crafts a little later than the Americans. Interesting thing was that after the Soviet manned crafts docked, members of each spacecraft did spacewalks and swapped seats in each craft. This was practice for a Soviet moonlanding, which was cancelled when the American did it first. This method of transferring would be the only way cosmonauts could transfer from one craft to the other.

It'll be interesting to see what a Chinese moon lander looks like.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2011


Dear Space,
You should know that all nations who visit you (for maritime purposes) are equally awesome. I don't mean to start a war up there, or bring you leftovers from old ones. Oh, and sorry about the orbiting junk.
Cheerio,
Earthling

posted by obscurator at 11:57 AM on September 30, 2011


It'll be interesting to see what a Chinese moon lander looks like.

It'll be smaller and lighter than the old Apollo lander, but it will also be made out of flimsier plastic and break five minutes after purchase.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:01 PM on September 30, 2011


It'll be smaller and lighter than the old Apollo lander, but it will also be made out of flimsier plastic and break five minutes after purchase.

It will also require 3,500 button batteries.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:17 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


When the current commitments expire in 2020, Russian scientists have proposed that the ISS be left to fall into an ocean.

That is the single saddest thing I've heard in recent memory, and there's been a lot of sad things that have occurred in recent memory.
posted by FormlessOne at 3:01 PM on September 30, 2011


You can make a space station out of lead, asbestos, melamine, and BPA? Who knew?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2011


The American equivalent was the Agena target vehicle

Not completely, the Tiangong is at least a full magnitude past the Agena. The Agena was just a rocket stage with a docking collar, The Tiangong has a large habitable space where work can be done. Actually, I think a lot of people have missed the point about the Tiangong... it's not just a space station module, it's an unmanned supply vehicle, like the european ATV or the Orbital Cygnus.
posted by Mcable at 5:01 PM on September 30, 2011


Not completely, the Tiangong is at least a full magnitude past the Agena.

Yes, most definitely. But they are equivalent in the meaning of "this is what we're going to practice docking and undocking on". Yet I don't think the Americans tried unmanned dockings first, it was piloted craft docking to an unmanned ship. The Russians and Chinese are doing completely unmanned dockings first. A sign of American cowboyish perhaps.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:48 AM on October 1, 2011


When the current commitments expire in 2020, Russian scientists have proposed that the ISS be left to fall into an ocean.

That is the single saddest thing I've heard in recent memory, and there's been a lot of sad things that have occurred in recent memory.


OK, here's the thing. Everything in orbit is falling. Falling toward somewhere. Even Voyager 1 is falling toward the center of the galaxy. But everything in Earth orbit is constantly falling toward the Earth every second of its existence. Stuff in geostationary is high enough that atmospheric drag may be negligible, but it's still falling on its own over a very long time. Something at ISS altitude -- a generous 200 miles up -- has at least an order of magnitude more atmospheric drag and needs periodic reboosting just to stay in its nominal orbit. This is the way of all things space.

The ISS is like a small child unable to live without its parent. ISS literally needs human intervention to stay alive. As long as it has a crewed mission, that intervention exists and is warranted. Most of this has been done by Progress craft and visiting Shuttle Orbiters; both Zvezda and Zarya have limited fuel reserves, but are used for orbital attitude control when necessary. A propulsion module was once proposed as a supplement, but was never built. Even so, it would only have been useful in the event of a service interruption such as a simultaneous stand-down of both the Shuttle and Progress launch systems.

In short, as long as crews keep flying to ISS, there will be a means to keep the ISS in orbit. But soon after crewed missions end, its orbit will begin to degrade unless other arrangements are made. The Progress has some automated capability, and the boosting is managed by (Russian) ground control, but it's not clear how well this would continue without crew there to help dock and secure it. Finally, obviously these missions require fuel and ground personnel and thus cost money. So any final date of crew habitation will mean the clock starts ticking on ISS itself.

Once derelict, the ISS becomes not just a potential resource drain, but an actual problem. We today are more used to the idea of derelict seacraft as potential lairs for treasure or ghosts, but derelict ships are actually a severe hazard to navigation. (One such tale is Lord Jim, where a ship crashes into the hulk of another that has sunk to just below the waterline; another is in The Ends of the Earth where a ship becomes entangled in wreckage and its progress nearly halted by the additional drag.) For space, an orbiting hulk is an obstacle around which all future launches must be planned, and is itself at risk from the ever-growing pile of orbital debris, all whizzing around the planet with velocities of thousands of miles an hour and kinetic energy potential equivalent to small bombs. Without a mission, it's really impossible to justify keeping ISS up there any longer than necessary.

As to how long it could be up there, that's an open question. Mir began to get pretty creaky toward the end of its 15 years (and had its share of safety incidents, perhaps related), and the propulsion parts of ISS are basically Mir-2 parts repurposed. Zvezda was built in 1985-86. For reference, that's when the first Back to the Future movie came out. Frankly, we just don't know what the upper limit is for equipment like this, and we don't want to have personnel in them when we find out. Will Zvezda still be kicking it ten years down the road -- twenty after launch, and an incredible thirty-five after its initial construction? I dunno. Would you fly in it? I dunno if I would.

Ships on the sea get regular maintenance, even occasional drydocking. Nuclear-powered carriers get a complete overhaul halfway through their 50-year service life. There are no drydocks in space to pull ISS into and reweld, recaulk, repaint, rewire, and what not. The point is that every spacecraft has a finite lifetime. The glass gets pitted from orbital collisions with tiny, tiny objects. The electronics get a little fried from solar energy. The solar panels get weaker. The air seals? The environmental systems? We just don't know other than through experience with ISS how long and far we can push everything. This doesn't even address the facts of how much technology changes over a generation.

Now, space missions like any bureaucratic entity have a way of trying to keep themselves alive on pure inertia. It's entirely possible that crewed missions in Earth orbit will be something that both Russia and its partners will still want to do in 2020, and maybe they'll find a way to keep doing that. Finally build that propulsion module. Swap out some of the older core for a spanking new thing launched on a super-rocket. Turn the ISS into Abe Lincoln's axe (the blade replaced three times and the handle nine). But it's not likely. Either the spacefaring nations will want to do something else, or will want to do something bespoke, or will be broke, or whatever. It's likely that there will be an end.

At that time, the responsible thing to do with your space junk is safely deorbit it, preferably into the biggest empty part of the planet you can reach, such as the middle of the Pacific. It's just the way of all flesh, in space hardware terms. Everybody who's worked on it has always known this.

Don't think of the end of ISS as sad, then. Think instead of the science and engineering advances that have resulted, and from what we learned building it about long-term habitation in space. Just like Apollo, it was a mission with a beginning ... and an end. It always was.
posted by dhartung at 6:13 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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