China could attempt a manned circumlunar flight in 2015, says outgoing NASA administrator Michael Griffin.That's what they're going to do. But not necessarily by 2016. 2026, maybe. 2036, certainly, and routinely with the infrastructure they're developing. Before then though, they really want to do a lot of robot exploration, in order to establish the best framework for permanent colonisation.
Griffin, a George Bush appointee whose job ended upon Barack Obama's inauguration, was addressing NASA employees and was asked about the likelihood of the Chinese going to the Moon - and whether that could encourage the US government to increase NASA's funding.
Declining to comment on agency funding, Griffin said he could envisage a Chinese Moon mission by 2016 that uses the country's new Arianespace Ariane 5-like Long March 5 rocket in a double-launch scenario. This would see China send a manned Shenzhou spacecraft with an improved lunar return-capable heatshield and an Earth departure stage into low Earth orbit on separate rockets. They would dock in LEO and the Earth departure stage would send the Shenzhou round the Moon.
The idea of multiple launches with rendezvous in Earth Orbit is the obvious solution, and is better for a long-term development effort than the "everything on one stack" solution used by the US in the late 60's and early 70's. Incremental development, building refueling facilities for Earth-Lunar transit tugs on regular resupply missions, and ferrying construction materials. That will take time, but time is something they have plenty of now.
There's no rush, after all. The USA is the only country that has had the technical capability to do this in the past, and they lost it. They could get it back again, of course, but the political will is no longer there.
From Transterrestrial Musings :
DOE receives $43.9 Billion (for energy related projects.)Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST's mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.
NIH(National Institutes of Health) receives $4.6 Billion.
National Telecommunications & Information Administration receives $3.8 Billion.
NSF(National Science Foundation) receives $2.5 Billion.
NOAA(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) receives $1 Billion.
NASA receives $600 million.
NIST(National Institute of Standards and Technology) receives $500 million.
The NIST stimulus package of $500M is 74% of its FY2009 budget request.
It's not quite true to say that research on spaceflight is only marginally more important to the new administration than monitoring the quality of shop scales at the supermarket checkout - NIST does other work too, on laboratory standards and the like. But it's more true than not. Their budget got nearly doubled, and other Federal Administrations received billions, whereas NASA got a fraction of what would be needed to make a difference.
Another 8 years of standing still.
As I wrote earlier:
Will there even be a US Manned space programme under the new administration? Or will it be expanded into a great money-guzzling hole as part of an "economic stimulus package" to save jobs (and votes..) in Florida?Now we know. Just enough increase to keep the existing jobs, or most of them anyway. Not enough to make a difference.