Space, Here We Come!
March 26, 2002 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Space, Here We Come! The Chinese make significant progress in their quest for the stars. A good bit of background from Wired explains that they're leveraging off of Russian tech but China still considered the program their #1 sci-tech advance last year. As an aside, some nice spy pictures are available of the Jiuquan Space Facility although I imagine it's been a developed a bit since then.

So, will getting a man into space signficantly change the world's opinion of China as it slowly evolves in a major world player? For Americans, will it be 1957 all over again except the little beep beep is replaced by a Chinese man waving back at them?
posted by warhol (27 comments total)
You think China hasn't been a major world player for decades? Where have you been? Space travel continues to be a fanciful luxury. Some would consider China's pursuit of space travel as a sign of its downfall.
posted by fleener at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2002

At least someone hasn't given up on the dream. Space travel is not a luxury. It's a required destiny for humanity, if we are to survive as a species indefinitely. Life on this planet is far more precarious than we commonly think, and even if we don't destroy our own habitat due to environmental disaster and pollution, some have theorized the sun's gonna go nova in about four thousand years or so; a heartbeat of time from a universal perspective. Others have predicted that the sun will last much longer than that, perhaps as long as 6.5 billion years, however, 1 billion years from now the sun will begin getting so much hotter that the polar ice caps will melt and the oceans will begin to evaporate. There are others who believe this is already happening.

So not only do we need to get on the moon, we need to eventually populate Mars, build space stations in lowgravity environments that will enable scientists and engineers to make interstellar craft, and somewhere between now and a billion years from now, we'll need to get out of this solar system and live in a man-made mobile habitat of some sort, seeking other habitable planets upon which to settle.

That is of course if we don't just kill ourselves in some form of genocidal warfare. And by the way, good morning!
posted by ZachsMind at 7:20 AM on March 26, 2002

Oh! Here is one source of interesting information about the sun, how it works and theoretical stuff about what's gonna happen to it. And here is a similar FAQ about space travel's ups & downs.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:22 AM on March 26, 2002

Sadly, they're probably doing it for the exact same reasons we did in 1957. ICBM development.

China has ICBMs, but they're not very good. I'm pretty sure the plan is to get to a point where Chinese technology is absolutly second to none (like say, the USA)..
posted by Leonard at 7:48 AM on March 26, 2002

You think China hasn't been a major world player for decades?

It's never been a world power in the same way that the US or the USSR are/were. It's never been an empire in recent history with the same kind of influence as the UK. It's a major power, but it's got a long way to go. It's rapidly mocing forward, but simple waves of humanity do not a world power make. It's got a lot of regional influence, but not so much global.
posted by warhol at 7:49 AM on March 26, 2002

Not a major world power ? I say, what if 75% of Walmart goes empty all of a sudden. hehe. Just guessing the percentage but its around there I would presume.
posted by adnanbwp at 7:59 AM on March 26, 2002

Zach, I bet you 100 bucks the sun doesn't go nova in 4,000 years.

I agree with Fleener. The idea of space travel now is just a waste. The idea that we have to rush into space is like cavemen thinking they have to hurry up and build an airplane. There were so many more pressing issues for them to worry about.
posted by Doug at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2002

I agree with leonard. Why should China exhaust its treasury on a purely scientific and exploratory space program just to duplicate the experience and findings of the U.S. space program? Like everybody else in the world, they have access to our best scientific findings, at no cost to themselves. For instance: It didn't cost the Chinese (Japanese, Turks and everybody else in the world) one penny to learn that there is nothing of any worth to anyone on the moon, and that Mars is a windblown waste. We're the suckers who spent a fortune on that. Fortunately, we were able to develop a lot of fine, terrifying missles in the process, so it wasn't a total loss. Think about it: Considering the stupendous cost of a space program, any country with a merely scientific interest in space would say "Let the U.S. do it." On the other hand, if you'd like to get a missle program underway, the expenditure begins to make sense.
posted by Faze at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2002

For our sun to go nova, it has to be with another star or something. I don't understand it completely but technically it's impossible for our sun to go nova. I was just saying there are people who believe it can happen. I didn't say I'm one of them.

What I find most disappointing is that except for commercial satelite crap and other Earth orbit type 'missions' the American space program has pretty much given up on space exploration. Why? There's no money in it, but seeing this thread started by Warhol this morning has gotten my grey matter burning, and my mind wandered to a question I've asked myself before but never bothered to research until now. And it's old news perhaps. I find it interesting and hopeful but maybe I'm the only person on the planet who does. Voyager Mission Operations are still active! They're not revealing very much but NASA is still in contact with them.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:16 AM on March 26, 2002

Faze. It's not that I'd call it a 'loss', really I think the conquest of space is the most important thing the human race will ever accomplish.

I'm talking full on imperalistic conquest, the kind humans are really good at. There's nobody there and we'll never run out of space or resources, it's a wild west that never ends. I really believe limited resources are the reason for all human conflict (me & Bucky Fuller), religion developes as an excuse to take things you want from the people who have them now, pow pow pow. With good technology in space, that tendancy is so minimized.

The trick is to get the technology without having the spin offs kill us all before we get there. I have no idea how that's gonna turn out, but there is nothing to do but try.
posted by Leonard at 8:19 AM on March 26, 2002

Sorry leonard. I can't share you vision of the importance of space travel. We've been to space. We can see into it. There's nothing there. It's sterile. On top of that, it is becoming clearer every day that travel beond the near planets of our solar system is impossible for reasons of our own physical frailty and the limited potential of all forseeable vehicle propulsion systems. Space there. We are here.
My cat is more interesting than space.
posted by Faze at 8:25 AM on March 26, 2002

we don't know it's sterile, we haven't seen much of space at all. i'm not discounting the benefits of astronomy in discovering things farther than we will go any time soon, and i think we should fund that more, but for some things you need probes.

in the plans of people that don't want to explore space, will we stay on earth forever, until the sun goes nova, or we kill ourselves? are you saving space exploration for some time in the future? if those people think we should wait do you have clear parameters for when we should start, or is it just sometime in the nebulous future before we all die? and if you never think we should, that is quite depressing.

I can't understand the total acceptance and lack of hope and curiosity that must accompany a mindset that thinks we should not go to space. That statement alone is a death sentence not only for humanity but for every other species on earth. Life is beautiful and must be preserved, we don't even know how unique it is. Those who would willingly destroy it through laziness, excuses, and lack of action I can't comprehend. The continuation of life is more important than anything else, and I see no way to continue forever on earth. If there are problems, we should overcome them, and if our frail bodies get in the way, we should overcome them as well, there is no alternative except death for everything.
posted by rhyax at 9:06 AM on March 26, 2002

We've been to space. We can see into it. There's nothing there. It's sterile.

Well if it's sterile, none of the environmental folks can complain if we eventually attempt to terraform?

Ignoring space is about the same value as the old U.S. pre-WW2 isolationist policies. Ignore at your own peril.

Either that or we have to evolve out of our meat. Which is more radical, space exploration or mind-computer interfaces?

Personally, I prefer the colonization approach. Sure we may be too frail to travel between solar systems. Send robots. Send our DNA, clone us when we arrive (who will handle the kids? robots might have the patience (grin), but I keep thinking about my daughters Meo-Chi, and how it lasted all of 5minutes until she pour sand in it's head...)
posted by jkaczor at 10:49 AM on March 26, 2002

Those who would willingly destroy it through laziness, excuses, and lack of action I can't comprehend.

Exactly, we must explode forth from Earth to spread our biological diversity before we kill it off.

If the universe is sterile, and not teeming with life, we have to spread as much as we can.

Not for the squeamish, but remember documentaries about conception, and how a certain substance bursts forward to propagate the species. Now think of those rockets as the ultimate phallic symbol.
posted by jkaczor at 11:01 AM on March 26, 2002

Ultimately, I don't believe the naysayers will be proved correct. Life has a tendency (one might even say a goal) to spread, and it will spread to fill the universe.

What amazes me (truly) is the statement that nobody makes money in space exploration. What a load of hogwash! How much of the equipment developed for the Apollo missions is now being sold to the American consumer? Billions of dollars worth, surely. There are other benefits, as well -- microgravity industrial processes, asteroid mining...the list goes on.

There is no loss in pursuing space. In effect, it's the ultimate competition -- man against the universe -- and it steels us like the great seas once did. It's a good thing, and fortunately, it's inevitable.
posted by Kikkoman at 11:49 AM on March 26, 2002

Hmm... is it really obvious that after 100 or 1000 billion people have lived there's some great need for any more? The stars and planets can take care of themselves. I can see us just getting fed up. I mean, we talk about dark ages now. But just imagine what even a minor 1,000,000 years with out any new advances in culture would be like. We'd be fed up.

Of course it would be cool to have a moon 10 times bigger than ours in the sky, and a ring around it, and also a big spiral galaxy with visible details. The universe's premier vacation spot for stoners.
posted by Wood at 12:27 PM on March 26, 2002

I can't share you vision of the importance of space travel. We've been to space. We can see into it. There's nothing there. It's sterile.

I think that there was no greater single unified moment for the world in the last 50 years as when Neil Armstrong first jumped down onto the dusty plains of the moon. It was a moment for humanity.

As for space being unprofitable, there's been an incredible number of technologies that had their roots in NASA's space programs. From new kinds of fishing nets to programmable pacemakers to the insulation used in the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. Take a few minutes and look through some of the NASA Success Stories.

Heck, if the NASA sites are too much of a bother, get nice glossy book - What do thermal gloves, robot hands, and cleaner jet engines have in common? They were all developed thanks, in part, to the American space program and its commitment to sharing research with the private sector....There's a little bit of outer space everywhere on Earth, from the paint on the Golden Gate Bridge (originally developed by NASA to withstand high temperatures on the space shuttle launch pad) to today's high-tech sneakers (which use technology first developed for space suits) and keyboards used by disabled workers.
posted by warhol at 1:10 PM on March 26, 2002

Going into space is one of the most important things man has ever done, and its a bloody shame how slinging a robot onto Mars passes for acheivement nowadays. I hope the Chinese inch ahead of us ever so slightly to kick us back into a space race instead of limiting us to this narrow view of an Earth-only universe. If we have to do it with political fear as a motivating factor, so be it - as long as we do it.
posted by owillis at 1:11 PM on March 26, 2002

this narrow view of an Earth-only universe.
Owillis, the earth is a mighty big place. I don't think anyone, scientist or layperson, could exhaust its interest in a thousand, thousand lifetimes. I wouldn't describe a person whose interest was limited only to the planet earth as "narrow." Maybe if a person were interested only in himself, his house, and his CD collection -- that would be narrow. But the EARTH. That's huge.
posted by Faze at 1:23 PM on March 26, 2002

Yes, there is a lot to be discovered on Earth - but an interest only or mostly about Earth is narrow when you consider we are one planet among thousands. It's our planet, sure - but only one.
posted by owillis at 1:30 PM on March 26, 2002

One doesn't need to wax eloquent at either ends of this somewhat fanciful (and many times retrod) debate to realize that a space program is conducted mainly for the technical and economic benefits from learning how to build a massive engineering infrastructure. It's a full employment program for rocket scientists, partly to make sure that China can make rockets, but also partly to make sure that those scientists don't participate in the brain drain. They can't project power militarily, so they depend on their missile force to deter American intervention, say, in favor of Taiwan. (Notably, they bought the last aircraft carrier shell that the USSR was building, which ended up a half-finished hulk in the Ukraine near Sevastopol. Turkey finally allowed them to tow it through the Bosporus this year, and eventually it reached Macau. We have yet to see whether the cover story -- that it's to be a huge floating theme park -- is in fact valid, or whether they harbor hopes of challenging American sea power.)

That said, China makes seemingly quarterly announcements about manned space flight like clockwork. Every time it's only a few months or years away, until the next announcement that it's only a few months or years away. So far it's all hot air. If you read the space wires you get the sense that China is either having a much harder time of it than they'd ever admit, or the entire exercise is cynical propaganda. Sure, they have a program, they have Russian-trained "taikonauts", they have some borrowed vehicles and equipment, they have their native booster tech. They haven't yet come anywhere near wedding all of these elements, and I'm not holding my breath until they do.

Oh, and adnan, nobody's disputing that China is a major economic power. They're not by any means an economic superpower -- for all their billion people their economy is still just barely larger than Japan's, but per capita they don't even rank in the top 50. Essentially they're a very large poor agricultural economy with a few go-go districts that are by themselves comparable with some of the Asian tigers.
posted by dhartung at 1:57 PM on March 26, 2002

Life is beautiful and must be preserved

Well, we would say that, wouldn't we? After all, we're life. I don't know that the universe cares one way or the other, though. It seems a bit egotistical to me to assume that our survival is a moral imperative, rather than a remnant of our evolutionary history.
posted by kindall at 2:54 PM on March 26, 2002

Sorry, meant to say our survival drive in that last sentence.
posted by kindall at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2002

hope the Chinese inch ahead of us ever so slightly to kick us back into a space race

paul dickson was asked what he thought it'd take to revive interest in space and he said a russian-chinese moon mission. also possible meteor impact :) here's hoping for pleasure palaces on the moon!
posted by kliuless at 5:03 PM on March 26, 2002

As long as they don't blow the moon up while making sub-terran (lunar?) construction.

But yeah I wish the space program is paid more attention, we didn't evolve by sitting around in area, if that was true, we'd all be living in Africa or whever life started on Earth.
posted by riffola at 5:31 PM on March 26, 2002

Oh, and adnan, nobody's disputing that China is a major economic power. They're not by any means an economic superpower -- for all their billion people their economy is still just barely larger than Japan's, but per capita they don't even rank in the top 50.

For now, but not for much longer.

Can you say "massive U.S. trade deficit"?

Can you say "cheap labor force"?

Can you say "U.S. heavy industry would be out of business without protectionist tarrifs?"

Can you say "Lots more Chinese ICBMs aimed at the U.S. in the next decade"?

I knew you could.

Ignore China at your own peril.
posted by mark13 at 5:58 PM on March 26, 2002

Here we have the Chinese, four hundred millions of him, occupying a vast land of immense natural resources — resources of a twentieth century age, of a machine age; resources of coal and iron, which are the backbone of commercial civilization. He is an indefatigable worker. He is not dead to new ideas, new methods, new systems. Under a capable management he can be made to do anything. Truly would he of himself constitute the much-heralded Yellow Peril were it not for his present management. This management, his government, is set, crystallized. It is what binds him down to building as his fathers built. The governing class, entrenched by the precedent and power of centuries and by the stamp it has put upon his mind, will never free him. It would be the suicide of the governing class, and the governing class knows it.
revolution and other essays
posted by kliuless at 6:07 PM on March 26, 2002

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