China goes to the moon.

According to This story in the NY Daily News, China has started a secret space program and plans to have a man in space by 2005 and a man on the moon eventually. My first thought was: Why would they bother? Then I read this

and it all began to sound a little familiar. Isn’t this how the USSR ran themselves into the ground, trying to keep up with the Joneses? Exploring space is a grand thing, but very expensive and you do not get a big return on the dollars spent.

I think that China can and most likely will have a man in space. I don’t know if they can do it in four years, but I’m not that up on where China is in the space technology tree.

But I don’t think they’ll put a man on the moon. Not that they couldn’t, but that they’ll find other places to put the resources needed for a manned moon shot. Like they’re own Star Wars defence system, for instance.

A tragic waste of money for such a poor country. I don’t think it’s connected to plans to make military use of space. The Government simply wants to legitimize its rule in the eyes of its citizens. Linking the Party with national glory and making people proud of being Chinese (eg the fuss over the stupid Olympics) is the best way they have of doing that.

They will be told that China will be joining the US and the USSR as the only countries in the world that have put a man into orbit (forget a manned lunar shot). What they won’t be told is that all sorts of other countries could pull off this 40-year old technological trick if they wanted to, but they have infinitely better things to do with the cash.

Even the new head of NASA is (I understand) seriously interested in scrapping manned spaceflight as an overpriced PR-driven irrelevance.

Chronology of China’s space program. There’s not a whole lot on their resume.

Eh, I don’t think they’re not going to be able to pull it off without a lot of help from other people. This article says it’s the Russians.

And you read that article and you go, “Um, wait a minute–the Russians are going to help them?” The Russians, the ones who don’t even have enough money to keep their TV satellites in orbit any more? Those Russians? Uh huh.

It’s interesting to note the date of this article: September 10, 2001. This is how things stood back then.

Okay, so, we’re all friends, now, right? Putin says he’ll put away some of his nukes if we will, at least that was how I understood the last press release on the Putin/Dubya meet ‘n’ greet cookout down at the ranch. And now China’s in the WTO, and they got the Olympics, and they’re looking more and more like real civilized human beans after all. :smiley:

So if anybody’s gonna help the Chinese, as part of the tradeoff for their support in the “war against terrorism”, it’s probly gonna be Uncle Sam, not Ivan. And as mentioned already, Uncle Sam isn’t funding much of his own space program any more.

I’m guessing this is just a publicity news release for the Chinese Powers That Be, to keep their hand in.

I haven’t seen anything in the domestic press about this. Not doubting the source, but when there is a big movement underfoot in China, one tends to hear about it. For example, WTO, APEC, the Olympics, etc. The state propaganda machine has yet to rev this thing up.

If you’re not aware, China already has quite a space program. They’ve been launching commercial satellites for over 10 years (IIRC since about 1985). I’ve been to one of the launch sites in Xichang, Sichuan Province. Haven’t looked lately, but IIRC in the mid 90’s China had one of the best satellite launch records of anyone.

If they really do want a manned spaceflight/moon shot, it serves several purposes. First, as Hemlock pointed out, this would be a play on nationalism. Second, and I think much more pragmatically, China wants to rise up the value-added manufacturing chain. Already there are chip fab plants in China, and two really big modern greenfield sites are under construction. Third, I’ve got no idea on the practicality of doing so, but perhaps China thinks that a big space presence would counter act the threat of a missle defense shield and the US overwhelming nuclear advantage.

I’m voting that the main reason is to get up the value added food chain via the practical research required to put up a manned flight. I’ll keep my eye out on this subject.

Contrary to what Biggirl says, its not a secret - the papers at least here in HK have been covering it for a while now. So, I’m a little surprised that China Guy hasn’t seen it.

As a space buff, I’m actually a little pleased by this. The space race was driven by politics, and if China wants to call out the US on grandstanding gestures like going to the moon again, then I think that’s great (with a nod to Hemlock’s reservation that China really does have better things to spend its money on).

Wars in space don’t make much sense to me, at this point in time. Wars usually involve territory or trade. No one wants real estate in space - its expensive enough to maintain someone in a space station, let alone the moon. And prospecting for diamonds on the moon is much more expensive than searching for antediluvial diamonds in the Earth’s seas (same goes for other metals and stones). So there is no trading issue.

This is driven by a desire for prestige, to be seen as the equal of the US, not by an urge to set up a squadron of X-wing fighters over the moon.

I didn’t say it was a secret. Well I did, but I was only repeating what The Daily News said. And it is strange that China Guy hasn’t heard about it and I did. Where is he in relation to Hong Kong (that is what HK is, right?)

No doubt prestige and honor are factors here, but military considerations are also a major driving force.

I get the feeling that China is feeling a little left behind. I know they absolutely hate the thought of that Star Wars Defense System (how real is SWDS, anyway?)

>> This is driven by a desire for prestige, to be seen as the equal of the US

I disagree that this is the only motivation. The capability to put satelites in orbit is clearly of dual civilian and military use. The same boosters can be used to put a satelite in orbit or to deliver a nuclear bomb. My impression is that China is interested in both aspects but, rather than do what America did which is fund the military side first, China is more interested in developing a commercial program which would pay for itself as much as possible and would serve as a stepping stone and base for the military programs. China for some time already has been selling payload space aboard their launchers and many American satelites have been launched by China because they can do it much cheaper. China already has a ballistic missiles capable of striking the US and wants to continue to develop in that direction.

Biggirl - China Guy is in Shanghai. Hong Kong has a(gradually diminishing but nonetheless) more diversified press, I’d guess. Odd though - I would have thought China would be getting more mileage out of this. I’ve seen it in the press on 3 separate occasions over the past 6 weeks.

If the Daily News think its a secret, then they’re not reading English-language newspapers available in China. The headline “Secret Chinese lunar mission” probably sells more papers.


Yeah I agree that it is probably linked to the desire to improve China’s ballistic missile capability, to counteract the Star Wars cart Dubya has been pushing. But, China can already hit the west coast of the continental US - a significant disincentive to US policy makers - I would have intuitively thought mass produced warheads and missiles would have been a better option than improving range (the more missiles, the more chance of getting through a missile shield). Putting a man on the moon, however, is pure prestige building. Its one thing to hoist satellites into orbit, but another to put a guy on the moon. There is no military value-adding to it. Better off test firing missiles into the ocean than putting a guy onto the moon.

Yes, but the same heavy-lift rockets used for Moon launches can be used to launch spy satellites on the order of the KH-11, which takes something as big as a shuttle to get into orbit.

I think it’s evident to everyone today that modern warfare requires significant space-based intelligence. If you can’t put up the hardware, you’re not a superpower. And China wants to be a superpower.

…and that is a very good point, too. But again, why tie it to the concept of putting a man on the moon, which has the risk of failure, when you can do relatively inexpensive tests here on Earth? Why bother with life support, re-entry, who knows what else extra you need to put someone up there and bring them back? If it was just a ballistics issue, then I’d agree. But its more than that, and buying or developing, for example, life support systems doesn’t help military progress.

Unless, and the thought just occurred to me, China gets its own shuttle.

The “manned spaceflight within 5 years” story has been coming out from Xinhua for over a year…

…but it has been sporadic and low key, and as China Guy indicates, not given much publicity at home. This would suggest it’s not a done deal - either wiser heads in Beijing are trying to kill the idea, or they don’t think they can do it.

After all, this is the same tightly run, focussed dictatorship that brought you the unbuilt egg-shaped theater in Beijing, Zhuhai’s white elephant airport, whatever horrors we can expect from Three Gorges, and the Ukrainian aircraft carrier-cum-casino!

To clarify, I watch some Chinese news, glance at the headlines in the business press, usually look over the internet edition of South China Morning Post (Hong Kong’s english language paper) and some others. By the way, I live in Shanghai, right in the middle of the China seaboard, and China’s financial center.

I haven’t been paying attention, but a big space program has certainly not been getting a lot of press domestically. That I would definately see sooner or later. Not to say it is a secret or anything, my point is that the propaganda machine has not be set in motion over this.

I still think you’ve got to look at the technological and commercial gains that would come out of a better space program. yep, certainly some of those gains would be better ability to spy from the sky and send over missles. But China is pretty worried these days that it will be relagated to being a low cost, low value added manufacturer for the world, when it really wants to get into more leading industries.

Just occurred to me that this might also be a shot over the bows at Dubya to not start up a missle defence shield for sparking a different arms race. Missle defence affects the entire world, including Russia, China and Nato.

As a total aside, China Guy how is it you get internet access to a site like this?

Like the Straight Dope? I use a DSL connection, but I used to use a dial up. They don’t ban the straight dope in China. Actually, very few sites that I try to access get banned. Geocities is one that I notice occaisionally. News wires are no problem, and most newspapers are okay. Which is all that I ever ususally look at anyway. CNN usually gets a blocking. I’ve ahem heard that the porn sites are not blocked either. Alternatively, just use a proxy server and you can get access. I don’t even have a proxy anymore that works because it is so infrequent to find a blocked site that I actually want to visit. There are internet cafes, and public internet sites all over the place (literally there are hundreds here in Shanghai). You can now get internet access in some places that I used to visit in the Tibetan countryside, which are about as remote a place as you can get on this planet.

I’m not an apologist for Beijing, but really, life here today is pretty unlike the totalitarian police state that frequently shows up in the western press.


More on China’s manned space program:

The Shenzhou spacecraft:

Quite derivative from the Soyuz design. Russian/Ukrainian aerospace/defense industries HAVE been in a friendlier mode with their Chinese counterparts in the post-Soviet era, surely not unrelated to China having actual cash on hand.

You are soooooooo cynical.

Hey - here’s a thought: if Chinese astronauts land on the moon, they could come back all shocked and wide-eyed, saying, “You know what? We found no trace of the Americans ever having been there!”

The moon-hoax brigade will pee themselves - then the Chinese can say “Gotcha!”.

I’ve been following the Chinese manned space program for a couple of years now, and the man-in-space Real Soon Now plan seems to have a certain air of legitimacy. In fact, I’m a little suprised that they did not attempt a manned launch this year.

Mark Wade’s site (linked above by JR) has been covering the Chinese manned program as closely as is publicly possible. Watch that spot come next Spring.

However, a manned mission to Earth orbit does not a lunar base make. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. entertained similar plans, which were eventually dropped. Just going from suborbital ballistic shots (1961) to a lunar landing (1969) in less than nine years was something that only one of those two countries was able to pull off. A base would be still more complex.

Part of the enhanced prestige of a manned space program comes from creating the industries which one must have to produce such a program. Some of those industries can wind up paying off big time.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, China is also in the process of deploying a sophisticated mobile ICBM system (think SCUDs that can deliver a nuke to Seattle). They’re really apples and oranges, or solid and liquid if you prefer, but Chinese rocket development is roughly paralleling that of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. One reason why a manned space program is attractive to a nuclear power is because it establishes a pattern of reliability, something you want your potential enemies to know for certain when playing the nuclear game.

A bit odd. Seriously, I checked with my wife and a few other Chinese. They read the papers, watch the news, and haven’t heard of the manned space flight program. Usually the state propaganda machine would rev this way up if it was a priority. Perhaps just for American consumption?

If they don’t believe that the US could get to the moon, why would they think China can?