Wednesday, 28 November 2007

China, Space, Education and Obama

As blogged about previously, Hilary R Clinton, one of the two Democratic front-runners has been distinctly unenthusiastic about the US manned space program.

Now it seems the other one, Barak Obama, is even less enthused. From MSNBC :
Obama unveiled an ambitious $18 billion plan to expand public education from
pre-school through 12th grade while at Central High School in Manchester, New Hampshire this morning.

Calling education "the currency of the Information Age," Obama stressed the need for expanding public programs to help American competitiveness with other nations. He said that a child in Boston now needs the training to compete with the kids getting an equal or better education in Bangalore or Beijing.

"In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow,” Obama said. “Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are. By 12th grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world."
So far, so good. The US education system, especially in the inner cities, is in a parlous state. It's by no means unusual to have high school graduates being functionally iliterate, and permenently unemployable. Anything that emeliorates this situation has to have something said for it. But is this strategy the cure?
Obama's education plan calls for: (1) full funding for educational programs from birth to 5 years old; (2) increasing the number of teachers through scholarships and incentive grants for taking challenging assignments; (3) prioritizing math and science education; and (4) focusing on parental responsibility in education.
Better and better.
Though Obama called for a renewed investment in math and science education, his plan would actually pull money from the federal government's greatest investments and achievements in math and science. Obama would delay funding for the NASA Constellation program for five years, though he would maintain the $500 million in funding the program would receive for its manufacturing and technology base, in order to help fund his education policy. The campaign did not say how much money delaying the program would provide.

The plan would also be paid for through the auctioning off of surplus public land, closing the CEO pay deductibility loophole, reduce costs of standardized procurement and through the some of the money that would be saved by ending the war in Iraq.
As said by NASAWatch :
Let's see, the gap between Shuttle retirement and Constellations' first flight is approaching 5 years. Now Obama wants that to be ten years. I guess that means that the only way for America to reach the ISS for a decade will be aboard Russian spacecraft.
From MSNBC again :
The Constellation Program is NASA's $104 billion effort to send astronauts back to the moon in the 2018-2020 time frame, as an initial step toward wider space exploration and settlement. Although the policy paper doesn't lay out the figures, our own First Read political blog said Obama would keep Constellation on a $500 million-per-year maintenance diet during the five-year delay - with the implication that the timeline would be shifted to 2023-2025 for the first 21st-century moon landing.

The first years of an Obama administration would be particularly critical for NASA, because that's the time frame during which the shuttle fleet is due to retire. The schedule already calls for the space agency to hitch rides into orbit on other people's spaceships for up to four years, and if Obama follows through that gap could go for years longer - even assuming that Constellation goes into hurry-up mode if and when the budgetary spigots are opened wider.

USA Today quoted the Illinois senator as defending his plan to put NASA's vision on hold: "We're not going to have the engineers and the scientists to continue space exploration if we don't have kids who are able to read, write and compute," he said.
I expect that they better start studying Manadrin though if they want to work in the area. From CNN :
If all goes well, and so far it has, the Chang'e 1 will spend the next year orbiting the moon, mapping the surface and looking for resources. Next, the Chinese hope to send an unmanned rover to the moon by 2012, with a robotic mission to bring back samples by 2017. Officials have recently backpedaled from goals of putting a taikonaut (the Chinese version of an astronaut or cosmonaut) on the moon by 2020, but analysts believe that is still a pressing ambition.

"If China can go to the moon, eventually with a manned program, it will represent the ultimate achievement for China in making itself essentially the second most important space power, accomplishing what even the Soviets had not," says Dean Cheng, a China military analyst for CNA, a private research corporation
According to Cheng, the Chinese are now embarking on a systematic space program the world has not seen since the 1960's and for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States is facing real competition. That may explain why the head of NASA, Michael Griffin, recently warned that "China will be back on the moon before we are . . . I think when that happens Americans will not like it"

But there could be a lot more at stake than just lunar boasting rights. It's unlikely the Chinese will land at Tranquility Base and pull down the Stars and Stripes. But the goal could be mining resources. One powerful, potential fuel source is helium-3. Helium-3 originated from the sun and was deposited in the moon's soil by the solar wind. It is estimated there are up to two million tons on the moon, and virtually none on Earth.

"If we can ever get helium-3 and helium-3 to fuse together it is what we call nuclear power without nuclear waste -- there is no radioactivity associated with that reactor," says Professor Gerald Kulcinski, an expert in helium from the University of Wisconsin.

The key though, says Kulcinski, will be developing a fusion reactor, which he says could be done within 15 to 20 years, in tandem with a program to establish a permanent human presence on the moon. Just four tons of helium-3 would be enough to supply all the power needs for the United States for a year, two shuttle payloads according to Kulcinski.
Interesting Times.

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