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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 17:16, May 01, 2006
China, US to join hands in lunar probing?
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On 26th of this month, the US Cable News Network and some other media published a same piece of news: NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said he has accepted the invitation to visit Beijing and will have negotiation with China on the possibility for the US-China cooperation in the sphere of space. Earlier, Luo Ge, Vice Administrator of China National Space Administration paid an informal visit to NASA. Despite the low-key statement of Griffin and the visit by Luo Ge, many people raise the same question here: will there be a day when the Chinese and US astronauts fly to the space together?

Griffin made his statement at the hearing of Senate Science and Space Subcommittee on 25th. At the time, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson asked: "Do you think our relationship with China is a competitor-oriented or partner-oriented relationship?" Griffin made it clear: "20 years ago, almost no one dared to believe that the United States and Russia will cooperate in the field of aerospace; today, the two countries have a very good cooperation in International Space Station. The US would not only need good competitors in the field of aerospace, but also need good partners. Partners and opponents are often co-existing!"

US National Security Council expert Dennis Wilder revealed on April 21 that the US has also proposed to the Chinese side that the United States and China should immediately launch the negotiation on the joint exploration of the Moon! Although NASA was unwilling to disclose the details of this project, US space experts believe that China will launch spacecraft to the Moon in 2017 and collect samples before it flies back to the Earth. The United States will send astronauts to the Moon in 2018. The two countries have a "coincident" landing time. In addition, the space exploration cost is alarming. At the moment, NASA annual budget is as high as $16 billion. But NASA has always been complaining about the funding shortage. John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute of Washington University said: "high cost of space exploration creates potential opportunities for cooperation among states."

US space experts also said that the two countries have more possibilities of cooperation: the US can use China's "Shenzhou" spacecraft carrying astronauts to the International Space Station. Chinese space experts agreed that the two countries have a foundation for the cooperation in space. Different space powers have different technologies with different features. A mutual cooperation can inspire each other and create win-win and mutual benefits for both sides.

In the past, the US has been worried about the Chinese "space threat." Indeed, cooperation is only a part of the voice of the United States in recent years. Some people have regarded China as a competitor or even a threat in space exploration. The voice for the latter will continue dominating the mainstream of view of the US policymakers in a considerable period of time. During the over 10 years after China entered the international commercial satellite service market, the US repeatedly prohibited the use of Chinese rockets to launch US-made satellites or even prohibit the use of Chinese rockets to launch a satellite with "any US-made parts" by giving the excuse of the possibility of "revealing state secrets". US policy on China's space launch activities has caused considerable damage to China. Even today, such hostility and suspicion noise have not disappeared.

Some international space experts believe that the primary reason why the United States would like to cooperate with China is because the Chinese space has developed at such a rapid speed that the US could no longer ignore it. Contrary to the original intention of the US, under the blockade, China's space industry has developed more rapidly. China has achieved consecutive successes in launching "Shenzhou" spacecraft series and reported rapid advance in application satellite technology. It also launched space exploration project. Although there is still a big gap between the Chinese and US space technology, the gap is gradually narrowing.

On the other hand, the United States has received competitive pressures from other countries, especially from Russia. Russia recently announced that its space agency will precede the US in sending astronauts to the Moon in around 2015. In 2020 it will establish its own permanent base on the moon, and it will explore the Mars between 2020 and 2030. Russia's ambitions on the space program has created great pressure on the US. This is an important reason why the US began to seek for cooperation with China whose capacity in space technology is considerable but is far from enough to threaten the US.

In addition, the US pursues a principle in external hi-tech cooperation, viz. it will cooperate with a foreign country only if this country has achieved high achievements in a certain area. For instance, only after China was able to produce computer which can calculate for over 10 trillion times per second, did the United States start to export similar products to China.

Joan Johnson-Freese, dean of the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Naval War College, voiced a different view on the US cooperation with China: Most space technology can be applied in both military and civilian usages. The US could only find the answers to the questions of whether China Aerospace has military applications and whether it will threat the US space superiority through cooperation and exchanges.

The US has many partners in the field of aerospace. European Space Agency, Russia, and Japan have launched various levels of cooperation with NASA. But so far apart from the European Space Agency, none of the other countries have achieved effective benefits from the cooperation with the US.

Russia has been focusing on the operation of international space station after it jointly held the international space station project with the United States. Russian launched the "Soyuz" spacecraft to carry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. But Russia itself has not been able to achieve substantial technological progress because it has put most of the financial and human resources into the International Space Station project. Japan also has a lot of complaints on its space cooperation with the US. It has reported consecutive failures in launching the H2A rockets and satellites in recent years. The Japanese space officials believe that the US' holding back some technologies is one of the reasons for its failures. The European Space Agency has been able to maintain independent in the practice of major projects and core technologies.

Some Chinese space experts said that the peaceful utilization of space is the undertakings of all the mankind. There are many problems that cannot be resolved by only one country. All the countries that have the ability should join in the cooperation. For politicians, the national interest has to be taken into consideration, but they should be able to take a broad and long-term view. Some experts also pointed out that if the Sino-US cooperation in space goes well, it will play a leading and exemplary role in breaking through the US high-tech exports to China, helping the two big countries reduce political mistrust, promoting scientific and technological cooperation, and improving the trade balance between the two countries.

By People's Daily Online

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