Tuesday/July/21 2009 Filed in: Science / Technology
The 100 Mile High Club
In 2003, Yang Liwei, became to China what Yuri Gagarin was to Russia and what Alan B. Shepherd was to the US.
Yang Liwei, astronaut (taikonaut to some) and commander of the Shenzhou 5 mission, became the first traveler aboard China's ambitious space exploration program.
Liwei made 14 revolutions around the earth, before making a hard landing in the Inner Mongolian grasslands the day after his launch.
Always Be Prepared
He was apparently ready for anything. He was supplied with a gun, in case he met any unfriendly aliens along the way or, more likely, unfriendly earthmen if he overshot has planned landing site.
Since that flight, China has flown several missions and including Zhai Zhigang's space walk in 2008.
The Shenzhou 5 mission was the first move of a high stakes game of political wei qi that may end with China following the contrails of Neil Armstrong and his colleagues all the way to the Moon by 2020.
But while the Apollo lunar missions turned out to be a temporary excursion, China intends to stick around with permanent Moon bases for exploration and mining expeditions.
Several years ago, the US announced plans to return to the Moon. But while it took only 8 years from John F. Kennedy's call to action in 1961 to Apollo 11's lunar touchdown, NASA needed 15 years for the redux.
As was reported in the Discovery Channel's television documentary, When We Left Earth, today's NASA no longer possesses the necessary technology or expertise to travel to the Moon and return safely.
It's as if forty years after the Wright Brothers historic flight, we had forgotten how to fly.
In truth, within only forty years after the success at Kitty Hawk, the Bell P-59 Airacomet, the first US jet fighter aircraft, was already paving the way for the jet fighters and jetliners in service today.
The Final Frontier?
But the question as to why the US needs longer to get back to the Moon than it took to get there in the first place may be moot. President George W. Bush's rambling and half-hearted 2004 commitment to travel back to the Moon and beyond is reported to be under review by the Obama Administration.
So forty years after the US achieved the most amazing scientific breakthrough in the history of humankind, the International Space Station boondoggle may be our only crumbling outpost on the Final Frontier and our ultimate destiny in space may be to timidly go where everyone has gone before.
The US beat the Soviets to the Moon (indeed, they never got there) but if American astronauts ever return they may find that their Chinese counterparts have already done all the giant leaping this time around.