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Griffin: China Could Beat US in Moon Race

Long March II F rocket carrying Chinas second manned spacecraft Shenzhou VI in 2005 (Xinhua)
More bad news for NASA: even their administrator thinks China could beat the US to the Moon. Speaking with the BBC today, Michael Griffin shared his views about the Chinese space aspirations, pointing out that the super-state could, if they wanted to, send a manned mission to the lunar surface within a decade. NASA’s return mission to the Moon is planned to launch, at the earliest, in 2020, so this news is bound to knock the wind out of the US space agency’s hopes to continue where it left off in 1972…

In the last five years, China has been teetering on the edge of a full-manned space program. In 2003, the nation became only the third country to put a national into space (following the Russia and the USA), blasting Yang Liwei into orbit for 21 hours on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft. Shenzhou 6 was launched with two astronauts (or “taikonauts”) on board, spending five days orbiting the Earth in 2005. This year, shortly after the Beijing Olympics in October, China is sending another manned mission into orbit, only this time it is hoped a spacewalk will be possible. With this rapid succession of successful manned launches, it comes as no surprise that attention is swinging away from NASA and to China for the next big step into space.

The last time man set foot on the Moon was in 1972 when Eugene Andrew Cernan, last man on the Moon, boarded the Apollo 17 lunar module. That was 36 years ago and space flight has changed significantly since then, now NASA has more competition, as highlighted by Griffin during a visit to London:

Certainly it is possible that if China wants to put people on the Moon, and if it wishes to do so before the United States, it certainly can. As a matter of technical capability, it absolutely can.” – Dr Michael Griffin

As to whether it actually matters whether China are the next to land on the Moon is open to interpretation. After all, the first nation to set foot on Earth’s natural satellite was the USA, so is a return trip a big psychological “victory” for China? “I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t say if it matters or not. That would just be an opinion and I don’t want to air an opinion in an area that I’m not qualified to discuss,” Griffin added.

Recently, there has been increased cooperation between the US and China when sharing science and information. “We do have some early co-operative initiatives that we are trying to put in place with China, mostly centred around scientific enterprises. I think that’s a great place to start,” he said. Although many will view an early Chinese lunar mission as a NASA failure, both nations appear to be trying to forge close relationships that could possibly lead to joint space missions in the future. After all, even at the peak of the Cold War, the US and Russia began working on a common goal.

I think we’re always better off if we can find areas where we can collaborate rather than quarrel. I would remind your [audience] that the first US-Soviet human co-operation took place in 1975, virtually at the height of the Cold War. And it led, 18 years later, to discussions about an International Space Station (ISS) programme in which we’re now involved.” – Dr Michael Griffin

Regardless of who gets to the Moon first, Griffin will be feeling the pressure of the “five-year gap” between the Shuttle being retired in 2010 and Constellation completion in 2015, there is still little alternative than relying on Russia and Europe for US access to space. Griffin has tried to increase Constellation funding by $2bn to bring completion forward by a year, but the application was quickly turned down by Congress. Those five long years may be more costly than the US government realizes as NASA loses more footing in manned access to space…

Source: BBC


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gary July 16, 2008, 12:15 PM

    I don’t know how they can beat us, we beat them by 60 years….

  • MaDeR July 17, 2008, 4:44 AM

    Why in every discussion on return to moon will ALWAYS appear some crackpot idiot with claim that we never been on moon?

    Yeah, this is rhetoric question…

  • KC Wong July 17, 2008, 3:35 AM

    It is just a technology advancement for countries to practise landing on moon. Whether it is 40 years or 60 years later, there will be a third and fourth country starting to follow landing humans on moon.It is not a race.Moon is just a space technology starting point. What I would like to see is that dont ever damage the moon as what we all have done on earth.History tells us that humans will only cooperate, during emergency needs. Thats humans.

  • DCTECHGUY July 17, 2008, 6:29 AM

    Startup the Russian Energia production line again and we could be there in a handful of years. Cancelling the SaturnV in favor of the shuttle was truly one of the great tragedies of the 20th century — there were SO MANY plans for upgrades, thrust augmentation with SRBs, stretching, we had already invented the whole smash. Thank you Richard M. Nixon, who wanted to erase Kennedy’s legacy.

  • dollhopf July 17, 2008, 10:40 AM

    Huron proposed:
    July 15th, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    “Perhaps the US could make it to the Moon quicker if they asked the Europeans to shoulder some of the costs?”

    Forget it. The German minister of economic affairs Michael Glos (CSU) just canceled the German Lunar Exploration Orbiter (LEO).


    The costs of the mission are now assigned to his home federal state Bavaria and will be used to extend the Center for Automation and Robotics in Oberpfaffenhofen, where also the German Aerospace Organization DLR is located. They have election campaign times in Bavaria.

  • dollhopf July 17, 2008, 1:46 PM

    Holla Realista, don’t talk to anybody about this!

    If you should ever get bored by your highly elaborated conspiracy theory about men on the moon, then look at this:


  • hiro July 18, 2008, 2:38 PM

    The moon race is the past. Now we should focus on the Mars race and beyond.

  • Van July 19, 2008, 6:53 AM

    I will never forget the slaughter that happened after the protests at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in 1989 and I am no friend of the oppressors of the Chinese people who rule with fists of irons. But the space race is over. It was so much nonsense, a Great Distraction. It would be insane to start it up again.

    In space exploration, I wish all nations well and Godspeed. There is room in space for us all. I would prefer it was a coordinated international effort, somewhat like the ISS but with the way the present regime has stained the reputation of the U.S., I understand that can be impossible. But no more “space races”. This mad competitiveness will be our undoing as a species.

  • mike July 19, 2008, 9:01 PM

    I’m sorry but I fail to see how China landing on the moon 40+ years after America is a race.

  • LM July 20, 2008, 3:50 PM

    I am opposed to the US spending my money to go to the moon. If China gets there before we do again, so be it, let them waste their resources.

    I agree with having NASA to protect US interests in space and putting payloads, like satelites, into orbit.

    But, with today’s rockets and equipment, going to the moon & beyond does not make sense. It costs to much and there is no return on the investment. The same argument applies to going to Mars.

    Maybe if NASA invented a new low cost propulsion system, it might make sense. But not now.

    I am a US citizen who opposes the wasteful spending in the federal, state, and local governments. We could probably do better if ~2/3’s of the spending was eliminated.

    Vernon Hills, Illinios USA

  • dollhopf July 21, 2008, 10:21 AM

    “If China gets there before we do again, so be it, let them waste their resources.”

    How to distinguish between “their resources” and “our resources”? America’s economy sells 700 billion dollars each year to import over 70 % of the oil it consumes.

    So says T. Boone Pickens in
    4 % of the world population consumes 25 % of it’s energy.

    That’s enough spending, enough even to settle on Pluto.

    You say “I am opposed to the US spending my money to go to the moon.”

    I agree. Better spend your money on driving a SUV which consumes 25 liters of fuel per 100 km from the shopping mall round the corner back to your living room. (which seem to be basic US interests) And don’t forget to let your engine running outside during shopping

  • Chuck R. July 26, 2008, 5:47 AM

    mike Says: “I’m sorry but I fail to see how China landing on the moon 40+ years after America is a race.”

    We’re, urm, pushing to LAP them?

    ba’dum, ching!

  • Will July 26, 2008, 9:19 AM

    Who cares if China, Russia or any other nation sets up shop there first?
    Hmmm…me thinks we are not considering the strategic implications; remember the Cuban missile crises?

  • g October 21, 2008, 3:50 PM

    if some important substance is discovered on the moon, what will we do if china says “I got here first and the moon is china’s!” what then? maybe international agreements need to be made in advance now!

  • bdiego January 1, 2009, 12:22 AM

    Griffin is intent on wasting taxpayer dollars on a drawn out effort to re-reach the moon. NASA should never have dropped its plans to visit Mars so it can make a redundant publicity run for the moon. He’s also spent taxpayer money to publish a book of his own speeches.

    China WILL beat us to the moon in a new moon race, thanks to Griffin. Ironic.

    Griffin has politicized NASA and dodges accountability as his inexplicable outbursts this year have shown. The bottom line is Griffin doesn’t understand that he works for America, not the other way around.