This year, a rocket will carry a boxcar-sized module into orbit, the first building block for a Chinese space station. Around 2013, China plans to launch a lunar probe that will set a rover loose on the moon. It wants to put a man on the moon, sometime after 2020.
While the United States is still working out its next move as the space shuttle program winds down, China is forging ahead. Some experts worry the U.S. could slip behind China in human spaceflight – the realm of space science with the most prestige.
“Space leadership is highly symbolic of national capabilities and international influence, and a decline in space leadership will be seen as symbolic of a relative decline in U.S. power and influence,” said Scott Pace, an associate NASA administrator in the George W. Bush administration. He was a supporter of Bush’s plan – shelved by President Barack Obama – to return Americans to the moon.
China is still far behind the U.S. in space technology and experience, but what it doesn’t lack is a plan or financial resources. While U.S. programs can fall victim to budgetary worries or a change of government, rapidly growing China appears to have no such constraints.