Friday, October 21, 2011

China may grab manned space lead and focus on the moon, Bigelow warns

In the 1960’s the fear of a Soviet “Red Moon,” helped inspire America to forge ahead on space efforts even if it appeared the Russians had an insurmountable advantage. Today, billionaire space executive and entrepreneur Robert Bigelow is warning that China is poised to dominate manned space efforts and within 15 years may be in a position to stake a claim on the moon
Bigelow told attendees at the recent
International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M., that he is deeply worried about such a scenario, saying Americans need a “kick in the ass” to respond to the Chinese challenge.
According to MSNBC, Bigelow, the founder of the Budget Suites hotel chain and
Bigelow Aerospace promised to "cause a stimulation" with his remarks at the ISPCS conference, and delivered on that promise by laying out an argument for China's growing space dominance. He said the trend could conceivably lead to a lunar takeover in the 2022-2026 time frame.
Bigelow characterized China as "the new gunslinger in Dodge" when it came to space exploration, noting that China is progressing along a slow, steady path toward space proficiency. Those steps include planned follow-ups to the
Shenzhou 8 spacewalk mission in 2008, the unmanned Chang'e lunar missions and last month's Tiangong 1 space lab launch. In the coming years, China will have plenty of cash for great leaps forward in space, while the United States will be hamstrung by higher debt and tighter budgets. After his remarks, Bigelow told reporters that the Chinese space program could serve as a "fear factor" to energize the efforts of NASA and its space partners. "It's the best kick in the ass that you can have," Bigelow said, adding that he also doubted that the Chinese would be content with taking on the status of a partner in the U.S.-led space "family," even if they were invited to join. "They want to have their own family," he said.

MSNBC continued:
“Why would China want to lay claim to the moon? Bigelow referred to some of the long-discussed potential benefits, including the moon's abundance of helium-3, which could someday be used as fuel for nuclear fusion (although that idea has been oversold in the past). The moon's raw material could also be turned into the water, oxygen, building materials and rocket fuel needed for human exploration. But Bigelow said the biggest payoff would come in the form of international prestige, just as it did for the United States after the moon landings.
"This would endure for a very long time," he said. "It’s priceless. ... Nothing else that China could possibly do in the next 15 years could produce as great a benefit."
Bigelow speculated that China could conduct detailed surface-based surveys of the lunar surface in the mid-2020s, setting the stage for the country to withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and formally claim possession of the moon. China could then conceivably insist on being paid for lunar concessions, Bigelow said.
He said the Bigelow proposed diverting 10 percent of the U.S. defense budget to the space effort, which he said would provide an annual boost of $60 billion. It may turn out to be "too late" for a space race to the moon, he said; Bigelow suggested that a U.S.-led consortium should target Mars instead.”

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