The space race shifts gears

posted at 7:01 pm on June 17, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

Hurray! We’re going back into space with manned missions! Well… when I say “we” it’s more in the sense of “we” as a species. A manned mission into space lifted off early yesterday morning – East Coast time – from China. And even the phrase “manned” is getting an bit of a twist which is unusual for China, as it included their first female astronaut.

China launched its most ambitious space mission yet Saturday, carrying its first female astronaut and two male colleagues in an attempt to dock with an orbiting module and work on board for more than a week.

The Shenzhou 9 capsule lifted off as scheduled at 6:37 p.m. (1237 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert. All systems functioned normally and, just over 10 minutes later, it opened its solar panels and entered orbit.

Female astronaut Liu Yang, 33, and two male crew members — veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang — are to dock the spacecraft with a prototype space lab launched last year in a key step toward building a permanent space station.

So the Chinese are putting up a space station. It’s a bit less ambitious than Skylab, Mir or the ISS, reportedly being roughly the size and shape of a bus. They also announced at the same time that they plan to put an astronaut on the moon by 2020.

I can understand a number of reasons why China is doing this. One of the biggest is more political than scientific. The Chinese want to demonstrate to the world that they are truly one of the advanced, “first world” nations and a leader in more than just making cheap sneakers. They also get to show off their economic leadership as other countries scale back on space programs due to the costs involved. But low orbit space flight has practical uses as well, since they’ll be able to put up communications satellites and astronomical equipment.

What I don’t get is the idea of going to the moon. It’s been done, and every reason I hear for going back always rings rather hollow. But hey… it’s their money.

Meanwhile, never to be outdone, the United States is ready to one-up the Chinese. You’re going to send up a rocket? Well, we’re building UFOs, baby!

The X-47B, the Navy’s new experimental drone, caused a stir in the Washington area when residents mistook the sleek, bat-winged robotic jet for a UFO.

The drone was strapped to the back of a big rig en route this week to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland from Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

Along the way motorists snapped photos and took to Twitter to describe their astonishment. Others, according to a Fox station affiliate in Washington, were so perplexed they called police.

In case you haven’t seen it before, check this bad boy out.

X47b Drone

Why do we need UFOs now? Lest you forgot, the Mayan Apocalypse is nigh, and SMOD2012 came by for a visit just this past Thursday. Prepare, citizens.

Edit: Thank goodness for all the free editors. This was assembled yesterday but pushed back for other breaking stories. Yes, it’s “astronomical,” thank you. And the launch date was yesterday morning, not today. Thanks. :-)


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What I don’t get is the idea of going to the moon. It’s been done, and every reason I hear for going back always rings rather hollow. But hey… it’s their money.

That’s an odd statement.

Would you prefer that they direct their space agency to “reach out to muslims” instead?

Tim_CA on June 17, 2012 at 7:06 PM

they’ll be able to put up communications satellites and astrological equipment.

They’ll put up some capricorns & some pisces?

:)

itsnotaboutme on June 17, 2012 at 7:06 PM

“But hey… it’s their money.”

Wrong, Jazz. It’s OURS.

Pilgrimsarbour on June 17, 2012 at 7:06 PM

since they’ll be able to put up communications satellites and astrological equipment.

That should be amusing.

pedestrian on June 17, 2012 at 7:07 PM

So they will be sending up astrological equipment? Perhaps they will also read some tarot cards… :-) Sounds faintly medieval to me…

deadite on June 17, 2012 at 7:08 PM

Not sure I’d agree that establishing a presence on the moon does not have merit. It is close enough to serve as a first outpost for human colonization of space. It has potential resources that can aid in that development as well as providing 1/4 the gravity well that Earth has. As a species, civilizations stagnate when they are not outward looking. This is the next frontier, learning how to get there in a sustainable (in the real sense of the word, not the BS green sense) manner is the next step.

AZfederalist on June 17, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Phhhhhttttt.
We’ve got Bacon Sundaes and Lady Gagagoogoo.

Dr. Carlo Lombardi on June 17, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Would you prefer that they direct their space agency to “reach out to muslims” instead?

Tim_CA on June 17, 2012 at 7:06 PM

That is an excellent idea. We could compete with the Chinese in reaching out to them and see who could rack up the biggest score.

VorDaj on June 17, 2012 at 7:16 PM

So the Chinese are putting up a space station. It’s a bit less ambitious than Skylab, Mir or the ISS, reportedly being roughly the size and shape of a bus. They also announced at the same time that they plan to put an astronaut on the moon by 2020.

C’mon, dude, it is a Salyut (which means it could become MIR). Which is only fitting seeing as how the Shenzhou is a Soyuz. And the Chinese project should not even be spoken on the same page as Skylab, except to deride Tiangong.

The Chinese have been saying 2020 for years while not keeping pace with the paths the US and USSR took. They cannot replicate the Saturn V, what technology hasn’t been lost, isn’t in a format the Chinese can steal. And the N-1 is a non-starter, literally.

The X-47B on the other hand…and the X-37 is making even the Chinese nervous. With the projects known, can the Dyna-soar be coming back from extinction.

And then we have SpaceX and her siblings.

Enough with the Chinese space race already.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 7:19 PM

astrological equipment

How about some Tarot cards as well.

rbj on June 17, 2012 at 7:20 PM

Soon the world will be stunned by US space technology as two kids in Indiana launch a two stage Estes Mars Snooper rocket with a cricket payload and parachute recovery!

Dr. Carlo Lombardi on June 17, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Dr. Carlo Lombardi on June 17, 2012 at 7:22 PM

You’re a rocket scientist. Who knew?

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 7:24 PM

Why the Moon? Raw materials.

Why a space station? Processing site.

When they announce they are going to put some orbiting mirrors and other equipment up, and a small robotic lunar mining mission, then the world will change. Solar power is cheap in space because it costs only a few hundred bucks per square kilometer to put up collection surface. Maintenance is cheap. Beamed energy is safe. The money you pay per kilowatt hour will undercut anything else.

Mind you, China ate up billions making cities it can’t fill, creating a dust bowl out of semi-fertile land, loses billions per year due to pollution based health problems, has a demographic that will see its productive older generation leaving in a permanent fashion and not enough people to grow crops for those that are left. Money would be nice, yes, but a real population and economy would be a bit better… and solar power satellites don’t solve food shortages.

ajacksonian on June 17, 2012 at 7:28 PM

But low orbit space flight has practical uses as well, since they’ll be able to put up communications satellites and astrological equipment.

Jazz, it is astronomical. They are not waiting for the dawn of the age of Aquarius.

simkeith on June 17, 2012 at 7:29 PM

I started out as an astronomy major, and you would not believe the number of people who confuse astronomical and astrological.

esr1951 on June 17, 2012 at 7:37 PM

A trip to the moon is a better distraction for a increasingly dissatisfied populace than invading Taiwan…

albill on June 17, 2012 at 7:44 PM

Esr1951- that was the choom section of students that gets it wrong, right?

wolly4321 on June 17, 2012 at 7:44 PM

the Mayan Apocalypse is nigh

The only part of your post that made me happy.

Axe on June 17, 2012 at 7:48 PM

Estes rockets,.. now that was funny!

wolly4321 on June 17, 2012 at 7:48 PM

The space race shifts gears…

…from space exploration to global warming and Arab outreach.

petefrt on June 17, 2012 at 7:48 PM

Esr1951- that was the choom section of students that gets it wrong, right?

wolly4321 on June 17, 2012 at 7:44 PM

Actually, my high school French teacher was one of those did not know the difference…It was surprising. And this was a loooong time ago.

esr1951 on June 17, 2012 at 7:51 PM

I take that back, after seeing a more recent rendering, it looks more like an Almaz than a Salyut (easy enough mistake to make, the Almaz was so secret, they officially called them Salyuts). They will need to improve to make it a Salyut.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM

You mean the Chinese space program doesn’t focus on Muslim outreach?

Philly on June 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM

Edit: Thank goodness for all the free editors.

You really think that was free?

:)

itsnotaboutme on June 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM

You mean the Chinese space program doesn’t focus on Muslim outreach?

Philly on June 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM

+1

itsnotaboutme on June 17, 2012 at 7:54 PM

Edit: Thank goodness for all the free editors. This was assembled yesterday but pushed back for other breaking stories. Yes, it’s “astronomical,” thank you

Mr. Shaw: Thanks for all you do. I am sure this was just a slip of the pen (unlike my high school French teacher!).

esr1951 on June 17, 2012 at 7:56 PM

Jazz is a series of edits. The music,, that is. People that enjoy it often seem somehow strange.

Just putting it out there…

wolly4321 on June 17, 2012 at 8:02 PM

Actually, they should thank Bill Clinton for selling them our technology, so they could get their rockets off the pad.

FirelandsO3 on June 17, 2012 at 8:04 PM

“But hey… it’s their money.”

Wrong, Jazz. It’s OURS.

Pilgrimsarbour on June 17, 2012 at 7:06 PM

Wrong, Pilgrim. It’s theirs. Look at all the worthless junk you bought over the last 15 years. From brass hose nozzles that crack (wtf???) to outdated 2 year old cell phones (wtf??). The future belongs to the producer, not the mass, conspicuous consumer.

On the plus side, our money wont be worth much soon either.

WryTrvllr on June 17, 2012 at 8:07 PM

@Jazz

Just sayin’

Axe on June 17, 2012 at 8:12 PM

After seeing the fraud of the ‘Chinese space walk’ video, I certainly don’t believe this launch claim is legit.

rayra on June 17, 2012 at 8:13 PM

Makes me absolutely sick!

The US should have and could have had a moon base years ago! It is insane we have ignored the moon! Everything you do on the moon prepares you for deeper space! A moon base won’t fall back into the atmosphere like the freaking idiotic stupid space stations do!

I honestly believe there have been people working to keep us off the moon so that others, like China will take it! Mining, experiments, space trainings and preparations for future colonies elsewhere…. all of it can be started on the moon! The space stations like everything else bureaucrats dream of has been a waste of money and resources.

America has short time to fix itself. If Romney wins and goes left it’s over for us. If Obama actually some how wins, it’s over as well. God help us.

JellyToast on June 17, 2012 at 8:16 PM

We landed on the moon first(or did we?). Looks like China will be the ones to colonize it.

bgibbs1000 on June 17, 2012 at 8:25 PM

But low orbit space flight has practical uses as well, since they’ll be able to put up communications satellites and astronomical equipment.

China’s been able to put satellites in LEO since 1970 Jazz.

C’mon, dude, it is a Salyut (which means it could become MIR).

That’s about right. The bottom of this graphic compares a Salyut, Skylab and Tiangong 1.

And then we have SpaceX and her siblings.

Enough with the Chinese space race already.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Agree, SpaceX and the other commercial spaceflight companies are great national assets. I am glad China’s having some success too though, since that will hopefully keep us feeling the pressure to remain in the game.

I watched the launch live on TV here in China. One thing that was cool and that I haven’t seen on a US launch was that they had a live streaming web cam inside the crew cabin.

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 8:33 PM

If it weren’t for Spacex and other private companies(don’t know what Scaled Composites is up to these days),I’d find all this a little depressing since America doesn’t have a space program anymore.

Dongemaharu on June 17, 2012 at 8:41 PM

I can understand a number of reasons why China is doing this. One of the biggest is more political than scientific.

No apparently you can’t understand Jazz. Low orbit space stations, and a trip to the moon aren’t more political than they are scientific. They are about building a data base of knowledge of how to advance hi-tech scientific technology.

The Chinese are are following in America’s footsteps taking the exact same steps as America took in order to build the same kind of foundation for leadership in hi-tech technology that America currently has, for exactly the same reasons.

It’s about expanding China’s economic muscle and through it’s economic muscle it’s Geo-political muscle. The Chinese want to prove by mastering the highest levels of scientific technology that they the Premier First World Nation of earth.

SWalker on June 17, 2012 at 8:47 PM

Btw, I don’t think China’s announced a specific target year for a manned lunar mission. The 2020 date is when they target completion of their planned multi-module station, the first component of which will be Tiangong 3 in 2015 or so.

In the meantime, Tiangong 1 is supposed to be de-orbited next year and replaced by an upgraded Tiangong 2 lab.

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 8:49 PM

If it weren’t for Spacex and other private companies(don’t know what Scaled Composites is up to these days),I’d find all this a little depressing since America doesn’t have a space program anymore.

Dongemaharu on June 17, 2012 at 8:41 PM

America’s manned space program is alive. Besides manned vehicles being designed and tested by SpaceX, SpaceDev and Boeing, etc., NASA is still working on the Orion spacecraft for flight beyond LEO.

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 8:52 PM

The only problem China had with launching the astronauts was that an hour later they had to launch them again.

Dr. Carlo Lombardi on June 17, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Actually, they should thank Bill Clinton for selling them our technology, so they could get their rockets off the pad.

FirelandsO3 on June 17, 2012 at 8:04 PM

One of the many acts of blatant corruption perpetrated by Clinton & ignored by our media.

Accepting campaign cash from them was one crime.
Giving our national secrets to them was another.

itsnotaboutme on June 17, 2012 at 9:30 PM

I think the Chinese going to the Moon is a great idea. Maybe it will remind us Americans that we did it once too and remind us what our space program used to be all about.

I wish the astronauts of Shenzhou 9 luck and hope it leads to more sucesses for the Chinese.

Scopper on June 17, 2012 at 9:33 PM

I know Newt was greatly ridiculed for his grandiose proclamations about returning to moon, but it is my understanding that the chinese harbor dreams of mining the moon. Sounds outlandish sure, but hey, look up the moon’s composition, if it can be done the moon is worth 100′s of trillions.

Like what you said its their money, if they pull it off lots & lots of money.

Archimedes on June 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Sounds outlandish sure, but hey, look up the moon’s composition, if it can be done the moon is worth 100′s of trillions.

Like what you said its their money, if they pull it off lots & lots of money.

Archimedes on June 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Are we running out of basalt on Earth? ;)

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 10:19 PM

You mean the Chinese space program doesn’t focus on Muslim outreach?

Philly on June 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM

…will they riot if a Koran is shot into space?

KOOLAID2 on June 17, 2012 at 10:22 PM

Archimedes on June 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Newt’s moon proposition was as much about long term national security and prosperity as it was about national prestige and adventure.

The moon has millions of tons of a gas known as helium 3, while it is one of the rarest substances on earth. The energy producing potential for this substance is mind-blowing. Used as a material for nuclear fusion, it’s estimated that perhaps a single truckload of it could be used to power the United States for an entire year. China and other nations want this unbelievably valuable resource and are currently moving as quickly as possible to get it. The ethical questions about mining the moon are moot. IT WILL BE MINED. The question is by whom. America has to establish a colony on the moon for very critical reasons, and start right now.

Reggie1971 on June 17, 2012 at 10:22 PM

Are we running out of basalt on Earth? ;)

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Well, its easier that huntin’ down all those tiny metallic asteroids. And there is gravity on the moon so the miners won’t float away.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 10:23 PM

Well, its easier that huntin’ down all those tiny metallic asteroids. And there is gravity on the moon so the miners won’t float away.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 10:23 PM

I keed, I keed. I guess Archimedes was referring to resources like Helium-3.

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 10:29 PM

Reggie1971 on June 17, 2012 at 10:22 PM

I’m as excited as any space geek about the potential of He3. There is just this little thing many moons back about how embryonic stem cells were going to change medicine as we know it.

How’s that workin’ out?

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 10:31 PM

I’m as excited as any space geek about the potential of He3. There is just this little thing many moons back about how embryonic stem cells were going to change medicine as we know it.

How’s that workin’ out?

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Sorry, but I don’t get it. Simply because embryonic stem cells didn’t pan out as some people thought, doesn’t mean that helium3 would be a bust.

Reggie1971 on June 17, 2012 at 10:36 PM

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Whoops, I meant to quote your comment, not to cross it out. Sorry.

Reggie1971 on June 17, 2012 at 10:37 PM

It looks like Shenzhou 9 docking with Tiangong 1 is coming up in about 20 minutes, at 11:00 CST.

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 10:40 PM

Sorry, but I don’t get it.

Reggie1971 on June 17, 2012 at 10:36 PM

It should be easy enough.

Rather than some geek on the internet explaining it, I’ll let a geek that writes about this stuff explain it:

Could He3 from the moon truly be a feasible solution to our power needs on Earth? Practical nuclear fusion is nowadays projected to be five decades off–the same prediction that was made at the 1958 Atoms for Peace conference in Brussels. If fusion power’s arrival date has remained constantly 50 years away since 1958, why would helium-3 suddenly make fusion power more feasible?

But a serious critic has charged that in reality, He3-based fusion isn’t even a feasible option. In the August issue of Physics World, theoretical physicist Frank Close, at Oxford in the UK, has published an article called “Fears Over Factoids” in which, among other things, he summarizes some claims of the “helium aficionados,” then dismisses those claims as essentially fantasy.

Entire article

Everybody whoops occasionally.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 10:47 PM

Let’s see: we have the New Horizons probe heading for Pluto, we have science satellites in orbit about Saturn, Mars, and Mercury; we have a lander the size of a Buick about to land on Mars, joining another lander on Mars that’s still conducting surveys from the surface; there is a train of six Earth observation platforms that have been measuring everything from ocean temperatures to agricultural yields for over a decade; there’s the Lunar Reconnaissance Observatory making a complete survey of the Moon at a 3-meter resolution; we have the Kepler Observatory in a heliocentric orbit that’s been discovering new extrasolar planets everywhere it looks; oh, and the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station that’s been continuously occupied for over a decade.

Explain again how we “don’t have a space program” anymore?

DarthBrooks on June 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM

Lets not lose sight that 2064 is not that far away either.

jpcpt03 on June 17, 2012 at 11:08 PM

DarthBrooks on June 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM

Excellent summary!

DarkCurrent on June 17, 2012 at 11:10 PM

It’s been done, and every reason I hear for going back always rings rather hollow.

I’m guessing you don’t read much science fiction. There are thousands of reasons for returning (and staying) on the moon. The first private company that can set up a permanent settlement on the moon will become fabulously wealthy.

RoadRunner on June 17, 2012 at 11:10 PM

I really like Schmitt because of his geology background, but like the other astronaut who is searching for Noah’s ark, or the one touting extraterrestrials, they aren’t the final word.

When we finally do figure out fusion, He3 may be the key, or it may be a false lead like embryonic stem cells.

I am more interested in the water that is on the moon. That could be used by current technology to fuel mining ships to the asteroids.

No nation will be able to claim all the riches of the moon. The real key to space exploration will be when private enterprise sees a profit in going into space…space exploitation.

cozmo on June 17, 2012 at 11:14 PM

I hope they open up some good take-out joints on the moon.
Kung Pao chicken…mmm..mmm.mmm.

justltl on June 17, 2012 at 11:30 PM

JellyToast on June 17, 2012 at 8:16 PM

Put not your faith in the princes of government (ours or the ChiComs). We’re still going, with or without them.

Blacksmith on June 17, 2012 at 11:31 PM

Shenzhou 9 just docked with Tiangong 1

DarkCurrent on June 18, 2012 at 2:11 AM

I think far too little is being made of American private space programs (note plural), vs. what the Chicoms are doing. It’s all about the long game.

Also, I’m much more sanguine about the asteroids for commercial development anyway.

Noocyte on June 18, 2012 at 2:11 AM

Watching two of the crew members inside the Tiangong module on local (China) TV now. It looks a bit bigger than I expected.

DarkCurrent on June 18, 2012 at 5:25 AM

I just hope that the Chinese make rockets much better than a majority of stuff the sell here in the US… because if not, this is gonna fall apart right after the warranty is up!

watertown on June 18, 2012 at 5:49 AM

I just hope that the Chinese make rockets much better than a majority of stuff the sell here in the US… because if not, this is gonna fall apart right after the warranty is up!

watertown on June 18, 2012 at 5:49 AM

They did outpace the US in successful space launches (by one) last year. Credit where due.

DarkCurrent on June 18, 2012 at 5:53 AM

Early image of the crew inside Tiangong.

DarkCurrent on June 18, 2012 at 5:56 AM

What I don’t get is the idea of going to the moon. It’s been done, and every reason I hear for going back always rings rather hollow. But hey… it’s their money.

The only problem with the Chinese going to the moon… an hour later, they’ll want to go back again.

Ba-dump-tish!

I’ll be in the area all weekend folks. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Hayabusa on June 18, 2012 at 7:24 AM

Hmmm, I bet the chow on that rocket is delicious.

Freeze Dried Dog anyone?

CorporatePiggy on June 18, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Did Obooba give them all of our reach out to Muslims technology?

Akzed on June 18, 2012 at 9:20 AM

China is taking to space because they need to carve out their place in the high-tech future before the rest of their relative cost advantage is lost to their rising standard of living.

Case in point: over the weekend I bought a new prepaid phone from T-Mobile. A year or two ago, it would have been all made in China. Now the SIM chip, the charger (!), and the owner’s manual were all stamped “Proudly Made in USA,” the phone itself was “finished in Cambodia with parts made in Japan and Taiwan,” and only the battery was “finished in China with materials from Japan.”

They know their old model of mass labor at cheap prices is going away.

JoseQuinones on June 18, 2012 at 11:08 AM

I started out as an astronomy major, and you would not believe the number of people who confuse astronomical and astrological.

esr1951 on June 17, 2012 at 7:37 PM

Where would I fall if I said “you have a future in space exploration”

BobMbx on June 18, 2012 at 1:19 PM

Maybe a good analogy for the world wide space program would be 14th-16th centuries. China was well on its way to being the world dominating force in economics, technology and exploration (ETE). Then a change in leadership, they turned inward and abandoned all exploration, leaving the New World to European exploration, plunder and expansion (EPE). Then just as now the tools needed were a bit primitive but worked. Vast government cash input was needed. Resources were becoming scares and populations dense with pollution running rampant. Once the basic exploration took place and showed the economic viability the private enterprise stood up and did developmental work while turning a profits.

China has a long memory and would like to regain the position they lost in the 14th Century. They also have an absolute need for growth expansion to survive. Still they are only in the first stages of exploration (ETE) that require vast input of resources from the government and may not have the free enterprise structure to move to the developmental stage. As of now they can not put up their explorers or even a weather satellite with out outside assistance.

The United States puts resources in to basic research (ETE) but has already gone the next step in creating a free market system (EPE) for development. With our free enterprise system (EPE), space is ours. We can only lose if we mistakenly allow it to happen.

The rest of the world falls some where in between.

One last point, Science indicates a possibility of other intelligent life. Each day Science closes that statistical likelihood. Some day we may well meet ET. The first contact will be most important because ET “will call home”.

jpcpt03 on June 18, 2012 at 2:58 PM