ON Friday, Nov 4, 2011 an event occurred which passed relatively unnoticed in the media, as six volunteer "astronauts" stepped outside of a facility in Moscow in which they had spent the last year and a half, simulating a manned mission to Mars:
The project was a joint mission of the Russian space agency and Europe's space agency, and included one Chinese, one French, one Italian, and three Russian volunteers. The article specifically notes that a mission is planned for sometime in the mid-2030s, after a "return" to the Moon.
So what's missing here?
One should note, first, that the Russians, Europeans, and Chinese are determined enough to begin the long-range planning for such manned long-range space missions, notwithstanding the economic problems we are currently undergoing. And we may be sure that, if Europe's economic woes prevent such a mission, the Russians and Chinese will proceed apace anyway. The technological, economic, and even resource future lies in space, and they know this.
What's missing is, obviously, the United States, where there seems to be no interest in planning for such missions and yet, as I reported last week, there is interest in developing "tractor beam" technologies and other advanced projects. We are left with questions: with so many economic problems besetting the world, why would Europe , Russia, and China be sponsoring such a project, while there is no equivalent effort - as far as we know - in the United States?
We are left with equally disquieting answers: either the USA has ceded all interest in long-range manned missions to its competitors, an unthinkable alternative in my opinion, or there may be such plans in the works covertly, which, given the history of deceptions involving space, I am willing to entertain. Be that as it may, however, the fact that such efforts are underway publicly in Europe, Russia, and China means that the USA, if it is to remain competitive in space matters, will have to move whatever covert programs and schemes it has for such missions out into the open. At the minimum, this pressure from our competitors may force the issue, revealing the "covert space program" as either a big bluff, or forcing us back into a more public posture. We may expect more such projects from them, and in my opinion, it's high time for us to get back into business for ourselves.