Thursday, 10 July 2008

Missing the Point

The Washington Post has an article on International Space Programs, including the Chinese one - but misses the point.
China has sent men into space twice in the past five years and plans another manned mission in October. More than any other country besides the United States, experts say, China has decided that space exploration, and its commercial and military purposes, are as important as the seas once were to the British empire and air power was to the United States.
"The Chinese have a carefully thought-out human spaceflight program that will take them up to parity with the United States and Russia," Griffin said. "They're investing to make China a strategic world power second to none -- not so much to become a grand military power, but because deals and advantage flow to world leaders."

Ah, not as such.

The military side is almost irrelevant. Once you have a minimal capability there, some anti-satellite system, the ability to put up both recon and comms satellites into Low Earth Orbit, and some early-warning and comsats into geostationary orbit, that's really all you need. Forget space battleships, they're too vulnerable to neutron bombs going off within a thousand kilometres. I might post about that later.

Leadership? That and a few dollars will get you a cup of coffee.

No, the real reason is the long-term, and I mean over a century to a millenium, commercial aspects.

It's not a race. It's not about national prestige, though that does go a ways to soothing the national humiliations China endured in the 19th century. It's not about the great quest for knowledge, though that will accrue as part of the process.

It's about resources. The same reason Chinese commercial and diplomatic interests are so entrenched in Africa these days, and why at the UN they say "Bu-" (meaning the negative) so often when it comes to taking any action that might jeopardise their cosy agreements with kleptocrats and tyrants.

China needs resources, and in the 21st century, they will need more and more. But it's the 22nd and 23rd that they're really looking at. So while others are building experimental scientific missions, spectacular one-offs, they're building infrastructure, at a slow, measured pace, and taking advantage of new technology as it comes along.

From DailyGalaxy :
Earlier this year, shortly after Russia claimed a vast portion of the Arctic sea floor, accelerating an international race for the natural resources as global warming opens polar access, China has announced plans to map "every inch" of the surface of the Moon and exploit the vast quantities of Helium-3 thought to lie buried in lunar rocks as part of its ambitious space-exploration program.

Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the first phase of lunar exploration, was quoted on government-sanctioned news site describing plans to collect three dimensional images of the Moon for future mining of Helium 3: "There are altogether 15 tons of helium-3 on Earth, while on the Moon, the total amount of Helium-3 can reach one to five million tons."

"Helium-3 is considered as a long-term, stable, safe, clean and cheap material for human beings to get nuclear energy through controllable nuclear fusion experiments," Ziyuan added. "If we human beings can finally use such energy material to generate electricity, then China might need 10 tons of helium-3 every year and in the world, about 100 tons of helium-3 will be needed every year."
The article is titled "Is Helium 3 Exploitation China's Hidden Lunar Agenda?". There's nothing hidden about it, they're quite open. So why does the WaPo and everyone else not notice?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think China or anyone else are doing it for the long term, or even the long-long-long term. I accept that there are likely benefits in the space program decades from now, but that's not why they're doing it. it's simply about bragging rights. The only nations to have an advanced and active space program are the only superpowers in recent memory: USA and USSR.
China has dreams of becoming the next superpower. Therefore, a great way of signalling that is to behave like a superpower, and go into space.
It's a game of: (sing along) "anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you!"