Aldrin Warns that NASA will fall Behind Russia and China in Space Exploration

The world knows the huge potential China and Russia have for space exploration. Russia is maintaining a strong presence in space with their sturdy Soyuz program and China has set its sights on having their very first “taikonaut” EVA at the end of this year. But where does this leave NASA? The US space agency has spearheaded the exploration of space for the last 50 years, but amongst all the talk about NASA setbacks, overspending and delays, could the glory days be coming to an abrupt end? In May, the legendary astronaut John Glenn spoke out against Shuttle decommissioning and last week, US Senator Bill Nelson called a meeting at Cape Canaveral to raise concerns about announced job cuts in 2010. Now, the most famous NASA ex-employee and second man on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin has voiced warnings that the US could lose its grip on space and begin to be left behind by Russia and China…

On July 20th, 1969, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot waited for Neil Armstrong to make the first footprint in the lunar dust. Soon after, Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong on this momentous step and making world history, setting the world alight with optimism that man was just about to embark on the next phase of evolution: leaving Earth and exploring the stars. Unfortunately this dream was only realised for three years (until 1972) after six successful lunar landings (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17), and to this day the Apollo 17 mission touch-down (December 15th, 1972) remains the last time we landed on the Moon.

Although we may not have revisited our natural satellite for the best part of four decades, we have been busy with our focus on the robotic exploration of the Solar System. But work has started on the Shuttle replacement, the Constellation Program, with the promise of sending man back to the Moon by 2020 and then Mars soon after, can we begin to get excited that NASA is gaining momentum for the next “giant leap for mankind?”

Many prominent figures are now worried that the light is beginning to dim for the future of NASA. NASA prides itself on developing new technologies, spearheading the push into space, but what happens when the funding dries up and other nations pick up where they left off? One voice that cannot be ignored is that of Buzz Aldrin who has voiced his grave concern that NASA, and indeed the USA, risks falling behind China and Russia in the “space race” if efforts were not redoubled by future US governments. With the US presidential elections looming, Aldrin has vowed to lobby both Barack Obama and John McCain to “retain the vision for space exploration,” not only to maintain, but increase NASA funding.

Buzz Aldrin on June 11th 2008

During an interview with the UK’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper he said, “If we turn our backs on the vision again, we’re going to have to live in a secondary position in human space flight for the rest of the century.” And he is not alone with this concern. Both fellow retired astronaut John Glenn and US Senator Bill Nelson have recently spoken out about their concerns for NASA’s future, ensuring the space exploration debate will remain alive over the coming months.

Although Russia has a long and proud history in human space flight, the Chinese are showing their thirst for a big push into space, with a manned mission to the Moon on the cards. “All the Chinese have to do is fly around the Moon and back, and they’ll appear to have won the return to the Moon with humans. They could put one person on the surface of the Moon for one day and he’d be a national hero,” Aldrin added. Plus, Russia’s Soyuz program could be extended for manned missions beyond Earth orbit he pointed out.

There is a real worry in NASA that the US could lose its foothold in the leadership of space exploration, so it is hoped big voices within the ranks of legendary astronauts might begin to get the future government thinking about how important space exploration is to the US.


35 Replies to “Aldrin Warns that NASA will fall Behind Russia and China in Space Exploration”

  1. You betcha. If you guys (America) don’t start ramping it up again quick smart, you’ll be third place behind Russia and China within two decades. Probably sooner.

    China’s ambition is bleedingly obvious to everyone – they have everything to prove and nothing to lose. They are acquiring the requisite skill and experience at a rate of knots.

    Russia is hungry to get back to the forefront and go beyond past glories, where they more than proved their mettle and competence in space. They are certainly on the rise again.

    If America doesn’t step up, start taking some risks and going for some glory again, all of a sudden they will find themselves in a position similar to that that they did in the fifties – lagging severely behind the USSR in terms of rocketry and spacecraft technology due to the lack of foresight of politicians and lack of investment.

    However, I think the US pollies will trip over themselves to outdo China and Russia when it comes down to it. They will crap themselves and realise that it would be a mistake to let two countries with a iron clad history of authoritarian governments and brutal dictators have the upper hand in space… Militarist I know, but sadly this seems to be the way of things…

  2. Frankly, I welcome the competition. Space is the destiny of humankind, not just one nation, and the more nations that step up to the plate, the better it will be for everyone in the long run.

    I would be happy, of course, to see America and Europe in the vanguard of space exploration, but I would not be unhappy if it’s another nation that takes the lead. Where someone leads, people will follow, and that’s what matters in the end.

  3. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I think that fierce competition is the best thing that could have possibly happened for space exploration in general. Hopefully some of the new-found vigor will go into scientific pursuits too, not just one-upping each other with feats of daring…

  4. “America” does not do things, its her politicians that most often define the path.
    Going to the moon was as much about saving some democrats political rear end as it was doing something for the good of mankind. It ceased to function once the goal was accomplished.

    Being embarrassed by china maybe gets us to mars at best… and then gets the whole program canned just like apollo.

    The truth is that space is a destination and politicians dont care to build any bridges there. At least they wont until voters demand it.

    When someone can lose their seat in congress over the issue, you’ll get the attention you want.
    Organizing a political voting block for these issues is the key.

  5. The best possible thing that can happen is China, Russia, the US and EU working together as one to return to the moon and beyond.

  6. I agree with you Steve, this would be the most wonderful thing to ever happen. The odds are very high of a joint endeavor on a Mars mission.

  7. Another reason why NASA should re-examine the DIRECT 2.0 launch vehicle. Not only is it cheaper and more powerful then the Ares while using exsisting, man-rated parts from the shuttle program; it could also get us back to the moon years before Ares could.

    DIRECT 2.0

  8. I agree with the commenters who welcome international efforts toward the moon and Mars, even if it outstrips U.S. efforts. However, I would like to see the U.S. be stronger than others in near Earth space. Too much of our security, including our economic strength, is dependant on satellite systems to allow others to get ahead.

    Off topic, but every time I see Aldrin’s face I am reminded of his pettiness and vanity on the Apollo 11 mission when he decided not to take any pictures of the First Man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong. Stay classy, dude.

  9. I think it’s greate that we are going back to the moon. However I think any manned mission to Mars will have to be one way if we are talking about landing on the red planet our selves. The simple logistics of getting into earth orbit should give you a clue that this just isn’t doable. We only managed to do it on the moon because the gravity is much less than earth. With Mars’s gravity being somewhat similar if slightly less do we honestly think this is even remotely doable until technology has advanced enough that we can do a VTOL spacecraft capable of taking off into orbit, Returning to the earth again atleast twice without refueling? HTOL is out of the question because of a) the lack of runways on Mars & b) the martian atmosphere would be too thin.

    Sorry to be a doom sayer but its just logistics

  10. I agree that it should be a joint collaboration. Space exploration belongs to everyone not just individual nations trying to be the best. Although a bit of healthy competition couldn’t hurt. I would like to see all the space agency’s in the world working together to achieve our aims in space.

  11. Hello Carbon Copies:),
    why we (u) could land on the moon 35 years ago, and now after announcing it, will take another 20 (TWENTY) YEARS (for the gods own country) to do the same trick, someone must explain to me. That’s pretty poor showing to wait 55 years….. American politicians have made plenty of poor decisions, to slow down on Space Exloration is the worst mistake. This planet is already doomed. There will never be a joint effort to reverse global warming. Therefore we must find another habitable planet (to repeat our errors).

  12. Competition for what exactly, the prestige of walking on the moon? Let’s look to practical reasons for space missions, if it requires a manned flight then let it be done. It’s not as though we’d be going back to stone knives and bear skins just because another nation orbits the moon. A joint collaboration would ofc be best, especially if it leads to a maturing of international policies in general.

  13. It’s time for the US to step back and let other countries lead this effort. The Russians have great expertise in both boosters and long duration space flight. They have the knowledge and the equipment to continue to service the space station. The others have worked hard to develop expertise in this field and are now flush with cash to be able to afford this effort. We carried the ball when we were in a position to pay for it. We should share with them whatever knowledge we still have to give them a leg up on the effort. This effort is no longer some political race. Let’s not risk another Challenger or Columbia event by pushing the old shuttles any further.

  14. Of course China will soon begin to outstrip our space program. What’s the big mystery here? It is, after all, just rocket science.

    It’s for the same reasons that all the manufacturing is now being done in China.
    – they send all their brightest minds to universities in the United States without having to develop their own educational system, often on free scholarships
    – they hack into our computer systems, and through other means of espionage, steal our newest technology for free
    – they pay their labor force, from the laborers who build the space facilities all the way up to the scientists who operate them, 10 pounds of rice a month as salary.
    – they have no armies of environmental lawyers delaying construction of their space facilities to protect the habitat of the purple-leafed ground lousewort
    – there are no governmentally decreed regulations concerning safety, diversity, gender norming, nor other labor laws that add billions to our costs
    – they have no unions to drive up wages and protect the incompetent
    – no layers of political oversight, wrangling over budgets and priorities
    – no politically motivated sideshows, like James Hansen, to eat up the budget
    – and lastly, and maybe most importantly, they have absolutely no concern for human life, so they need not put in the layers of redundancy in the equipment and space vehicles to protect their astronauts. With 1.5 billion of them, why worry about losing 10 or 20? They’ll just send some more over here to get trained for free.

    All the above reduce their cost to nothing relative to our own, eliminate expensive delays, and allow them to develop their programs at breakneck speed, with no regard for the environment or their own people.

    I recall a thread here recently about the possibility of a one-way trip to Mars, and how much faster that program could proceed if we tried that. The outrage from many of the posters about how could we ever ask someone to do that was very enlightening. Over there, they’ll just order someone to go.

    They could lose the first twenty ships and a hundred astronauts without blinking an eye. The Russians lost many cosmonauts that we never heard about in the US during the height of the US-Soviet space race. Heck, due to the secrecy we would only hear about the Chinese astronauts that lived.

    And they’d still beat us to Mars because of our squeamishness at ever, ever losing another Sally Ride.

  15. As far as Russia goes, their economy is not doing to well so I am not sure where they are going to pay for this (not to mention keep their scientists from defecting towards the US).

    I would worry more about Japan than Russia, although China is probably the US biggest concern as far as space goes.

  16. @FLA-Ryan:
    Thanks for providing the link, I have never seen this proposal before. Whilst DIRECT v2.0 is an excellent idea, the Ares V has the ability to launch almost 50,000 kg more to LEO (Low Earth orbit) than Jupiter 232. And on second thought, why not use the Saturn V; hey it has the perfect flight record (12/12). Would Saturn V be more cost effective than Ares V?

  17. Don’t be so critical of China. They are simply taking advantage of the rules that exist. If we were so clever we would have set up a system that could not have been taken advantage of. The US will lose if they continue to consider the exploration of space as race. I respect Mr. Aldrin for all he has done for I don’t care for him posing the exploration of space as some contest. GOD bless you Buzz. While this race attitude may have allowed NASA to get the funding and the motivation it needed to get to the Moon it is not the right approach today. It is too wasteful to have all the superpowers duplicating the efforts of each other. The tasks needed to be accomplished should be divided among them to save time and money. Manned missions to Mars is also a huge waste of money. Robots get better and better and do not endanger human life. Robots also don’t have to have a round trip ticket.

  18. I was not going to discuss this but due to the gloomy picture in people’s mind, I had to. I am working on an extremely heavy lift vehicle here at the Summit Waterfalls. It will be able to send 8,000,000 kg or 8,000 metric ton to Mars in a single launch compared to Ares V with 137,000 kg or 137 metric ton to LEO (Low earth Orbit). It will make its debut flight in the next decade (~2014 to 2018).

    Now how is this possible? Well, we are not going to be using the traditional rocket system, but rather an aircraft with plasma scramjet engine to reach orbital speeds to deliver the Mars Spaceship with in Earth orbit.

    Look out for official announcements in 2009.

    Summit Waterfalls is an American company and is soon to be incorporated.

  19. Nothing that a few hundred billion$ a year and recycled gloom and doom scientists can’t fix, from, hmmm, let’s see, the Defense budgets, perhaps?

  20. @Dave S:

    Yes, 8,000 metric ton. The aircraft actually weighs well over 20,000 metric ton. The three world’s largest runways will be built in Northern California, United Sates, Australia, and France.

    The aircraft uses composite plasma-scramjet engine cluster and supersonic engines on collapsible wings. The supersonic engines are used for take-off, and at 1,400 miles per hour the plasma scramjet engines will be activated. Then at 1,800 miles per hour the supersonic engines are shutdown and the wings are closed into the aircraft for efficiency of aerodynamics at very high speeds. The aircrafts skin is being under research and will mostly likely be built of special nano-engineered carbon-carbon material to counteract plasma in the Earth’s atmosphere at 18,000 miles per hour speeds. And so, yea, it does have a ability to go in space and even possibly land on the Moon and come back to Earth, granted we construct runway on the Moon which we are looking forward to.

    We are working on a plan to deliver a runway on Mars to be able to land a Mars Spaceship.

    This aircraft will open space to humanity. We have already have a long list of missions in various places through out the solar system and even an interstellar mission.

    One of the extremely exciting things are that we are planning on to launch four reflecting telescopes each with 200 meter mirror.


  21. The Moon – yes it was wonderful, but frankly, ‘Been there, done that’. Just because we haven’t returned to the Moon doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything else worthwhile. Come on, what about developing a more reliable vehicle into Space (Shuttle) and having launched the wonderful Hubble, which I may add has taught ALL of Mankind so many marvelous things about Space. And have we already forgotten the International Space Station?!!? That is such an amazing thing and it is a COLLABORATIVE effort.
    I’m not saying we shouldn’t return to the Moon, but I don’t think we should do it simply for our egos. Like many have mentioned earlier, I’d rather see our focus on Mars..TOGETHER.

  22. IKE: I tihnk the 2020 goal was set because anyone even vaguely in touch with reality is aware that it will take that long for the American economy to recover from its current crisis. Assuming some good luck, and a withdrawal from Iraq in the near future.

  23. Just because Apollo went to the moon does not mean we are done studying it for further use. Its going to become a common destination for anyone intent on running operations deeper in space.

    Restarting lunar missions is critical if we want to have any chance at reaching mars in the near future.

  24. Radiation, UV, X ray, effect of Weightlesness,
    Absolute Cold temperature, high probability of being hit by space debris/ asteroids, unimaginable long distances between stars etc. etc. These are just a few known Hazards of manned space travel.

    How can Humans in their right mind think of sending manned space crafts out of our Solar System. Why is NASA spending Trillions of dollars on developement of space stations and space crafts?

    If the vision is to target space tourism and commercial ventures within our Solar System, maybe it makes sense.

    But if the Human species would like to find a new home, before we run out of options on our present home, we better think out of the box.

    The Human body is too fragile for space travel. We have to find some other revolutionary way forward if we want to save the Human species from extinction.

    How about NASA inviting suggestions and proposals for a practicable and feasable alterantive to manned space travel on the lines of X-prize and stop spending money on traditional concepts of space travel by competing with China/ Russia.

  25. Typical Buzz Aldrin.

    “If we fall behind we’ll be…..BEHIND!!”

    Yes, thank you Mr. Buzz. Brilliant.

    Sorry about that ‘second man on the Moon thing.’

  26. “How hold the aces, the East or the West?
    This is the crap that our children are learning,
    But oh, the Tide is Turning.”
    – Roger Waters

    I believe I am a patriot. I love my country (the USA). But the Space Race of the 60’s was wasteful and the Cold War of the last half of the 20th century held the world hostage to the two superpowers, ready to unlease Mutually Assured Destruction on the planet at a moment’s notice. Going to the Moon was fun but it was a distraction from developing a permanent presence in Earth orbit. And I am so glad that the ISS is a world wide effort with many nations joining together.

    Forget these mad competitions – it does not matter who is Number One but that humans learn to cooperate and help each other.

    Let the USA join the community of nations inside of trying to dominate it. There is room for all.

    If we could internationalize the space program in a truly meaningful way, for the long term, that would be the greatest achievement.

  27. It would be a sad day indeed if the US were to lose its lead in the field of spaceflight, and I think it goes a little bit beyond nationalism. America has built a diverse set of experiences and technologies over decades of spaceflight and letting it all fade from memory for lack of funding and vision would be a tragedy far worse than any of her space disasters. China’s willingness to launch over populated areas has already resulted in fatalities among people who didn’t ask to risk their lives for space, and there is cause for concern over whether they are as willing to share their discoveries as NASA.

    The so-called golden age of science fiction preceded the lunar program of the 60s, and that was an excellent source of free PR for the space program. While the internet gives the general public greater access to the actual science of space, I think it’s telling that wizards and magic grab more attention from our children than astronauts and spaceships.

    @Mike Johnson: Buzz Aldrin’s spacesuit was not equipped with a camera like Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. Of course, Neil Armstrong has to be the most humble man ever to walk the Earth let alone the moon, so anybody is going to look vain by comparison.

  28. Evil,
    The camera was used by both men and was attached to whoever was using it. Armstrong had it longer because he was on the surface first and therefore longer than Aldrin. Aldrin has many pictures credited to him.
    Aldrin wants us to believe that NASA sent two men to the moon with a camera and no plan to take pictures of the first man on the moon, just the second.
    This didn’t happen in a vacuum (pardon the pun). Aldrin lobbied hard (and angered many astronauts by doing so) to be first out onto the surface, even going so far as asking Neil to lobby for him as well. But tradition and simple mechanics won out over ego and Buzz was left with a bit of childish historical sabotage to mark his career. It worked. To this day photos of the First Man on the Moon are still being produced by technicians who use software to “unbend” the reflections off of Buzz’s helmet.

  29. I think Russia will reach Mars first (with humans onboard) with a Fly-By non-orbital non-landing mission.
    Next will be a controversial Russian flag-planting one-man one-way trip.
    And only long after that, when the dificult issue of landing big payloads on Mars without undergoing man killing G forces, will an International (NASA/Russia/JAXA/China) mission acomplish return of living astronauts

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