Yesterday I blogged concerning Russia's announced intentions to resume manned Moon Missions, its goal of placing a permanent manned base on the Moon by 2030, and its intentions to go to Mars by 2040. In that context, Russia has made it clear that it sees the technological and economic benefits to be gained by the commercialization of space.
Don't think for a moment that these lessons are lost on China; they aren't. There is an interesting White Paper on the official website of The China National Space Administration:
There are a number of very interesting paragraphs in this paper that clearly point out that the Chinese understand the technical and commercial benefits of a vigorous space program, but consider only these two:
"China carries out its space activities in accordance with the following principles:
"- Adhering to the principle of long-term, stable and sustainable development and making the development of space activities cater to and serve the state's comprehensive development strategy. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the significant role of space activities in implementing the strategy of revitalizing the country with science and education and that of sustainable development, as well as in economic construction, national security, science and technology development and social progress. The development of space activities is encouraged and supported by the government as an integral part of the state's comprehensive development strategy.
"- Upholding the principle of independence, self-reliance and self-renovation and actively promoting international exchanges and cooperation. China shall rely on its own strength to tackle key problems and make breakthroughs in space technology. Meanwhile, due attention shall be given to international cooperation and exchanges in the field of space technology, and self-renovation in space technology shall be combined organically with technology import on the principles of mutual benefit and reciprocity."
In other words, China gets it: space exploration pays big economic, technological, and educational benefits, as our own country discovered in the heyday of NASA from the late 1950s to the end of the Apollo era. Notably, China views the role of its space program in terms of being able to accomplish things "on its own strength" and thus "on its own strength" to "make breakthroughs in space technology." Again, reading further in the document, China, like Russia, senses the long term strategic economic benefit to be gained from its space program, as evidenced by the following statement:
"To achieve industrialization and marketization of space technology and space applications. The exploration and utilization of space resources shall meet a wide range of demands of economic construction, state security, science and technology development and social progress, and contribute to the strengthening of the comprehensive national strength..."
All of this, China sees being mandated under the needs of its national security and "comprehensive national strength"; read that second paragraph quoted above, again:
"The aims of China's space activities are: to explore outer space, and learn more about the cosmos and the Earth; to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, promote mankind's civilization and social progress, and benefit the whole of mankind; and to meet the growing demands of economic construction, national security, science and technology development and social progress, protect China's national interests and build up the comprehensive national strength."
This is clear, and we should learn the lessons (again) and make them part of our own national debate, as we are witnessing the deadlock of both political parties and their lack of vision, as we are witnessing the "rustification" of American manufacturing and technology. We learned the lesson once; we had to. Now, Russia and China both are calling us to learn it again. Space is the high ground, technologically, economically, and in terms of the "comprehensive national strength." The era of the shuttle detour is over. We need vision in NASA.